Review Summary: An attempt at hard rock through a darkly sensual aesthetic with a strong performance from lead singer Serrina Sims, Sweethead is ultimately filled with too much filler to be truly sexy or dangerous.Like the morning after the best night of your life, Sweethead, the new project of Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen is a potent member of the sheer thrills in after midnight, rock’n’roll decadence.
Or so it is boldly proclaimed on Sweethead's homepage. Although Sweethead’s eponymous album is pretty good, let’s not kid ourselves. This is more like the morning after a decent night out in the town, hammered from downing two too many Whiskey Dry’s, and tasting the remnants of what you had for dinner in the back of your throat. It won’t turn you off of late night runs - between getting smashed and trying your damn hardest to play pool when you can’t even walk three feet - but it’s also not enough to joke about with your friends afterward - if you can even remember the night before.
Formed in 2008 by Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen, new lead singer Serrina Sims, Norm Block of Plexi and Eddie Nappi of Handsome and Enemy, Sweethead promised simpler music that reached back to the roots, focussing on a more classic edge, mixed over ice with a sultry smile. When their EP, The Great Disruptors EP, landed last July, it seemed like they met their claim. However, despite the promise the EP showed, it was also rather clear that Sweethead needed to expand their sound. If not, they couldn’t possibly write an album’s worth of songs that were all equally interesting.
Sadly, the very first thing you notice is that the sound does not vary by much. The songs seem to follow a similar dynamic of fuzzy guitars, mellow basses, and sensual vocals that all flow into one another. And really, the vocals are easily the highlight of the album where sometimes, the only real way to differentiate between the songs is through Serrina’s singing alone.
The album hits off with a number of fun numbers that tries to stick to the proposed Sweethead formula, like album starter The Sting, a raunchy stomp teasing us with a glimpse of that assurance of potent midnight rock’n’roll decadence, but not quite. This is quickly followed up with Turned Our Backs, a fun punk meet glam-rock song, bouncing along into the darker sleaze of P.I.G., seemingly influenced by Nine Inch Nails except without the bite.
Unfortunately, by this point, Sweethead gets trapped within their sound, maybe sticking too rigidly to that after-hours ambience. Amazing Vanishing Conquest and Running Out both open to disappointingly similar guitars that vacillate between high to low, but in the case of Amazing Vanishing Conquest, some cringe-worthy lyrics as well with “I love you, I love you so much” repeated unnecessarily. Running Out is far better, but it seems satisfied with settling into a murky but pleasantly mellow swirl with Serrina crooning “yoo-hoo” over the faint screech of the rhythm guitar before finally singing the chorus from within an aircraft hangar.
Sinkhole International picks up from where Running Out left off, but with another dip. Admittedly, the surf guitar is fleetingly interesting, but it doesn’t last long and it comes in and out like a bad radio before sinking into a chorus that tries to emulate the bounce of Turned Our Backs. Remote Control Boys tries too hard with another rolling bass line ripped right out of The Great Disruptors with Serrina’s vocals barely keeping the song alive. Meet in the Road is a fair attempt at breaking the uniformity with an acoustic ditty thing, but it goes on for far too long. It would have been better served as a shorter threshold song between the two halves of the album where, again, Serrina’s vocals takes the spotlight.
The album slowly climbs out of the sameness with Other Side which seems like an improved version of Amazing Vanishing Conquest. It’s vaguely sinister, perhaps akin to the vampires that the next song talks about, were it not for a certain novel and film killing off any badassery that vampires had (Bram Stoker must be rolling in his grave).
But, it’s the next track that serves as one the major highlights of the album. The Great Disruptors rolls out with a nasty bass line, complemented by Serrina's seductive soprano before breaking open with a jagged guitar. I have no idea what she’s talking about, but it’s sexy as hell. No doubt the climax of the album, it almost makes the next two songs disappointing as they clearly serve as the anti-climax, the come down of the album. A.W.O.L. is another happy hit that doesn’t really go anywhere and The Last Evening is an all right track but it’s like watching a thriller or mystery. You expect the movie to climax at the very end and close off, leaving the audience enthralled. Instead, you get another ten minutes of the case being closed off after the trial, utterly destroying the glorious epiphany of the climax. However, in this case, there wasn't a real build up either, effectively isolating the climax away from the rest of the album.
In short, the album is a roller coaster ride, hovering from great to uninteresting. Although the sound is consciously refined through a sexually charged and dark aesthetic, some of the decisions made ruin the mood. Instead of engulfing the listener in orgasmic bliss, Sweethead occasionally shakes you from that stupor, making it a little difficult to tempt yourself back into it. Hopefully, when the next album comes around, they’ll have finally expanded upon their debut, but based on the transition from their EP to the LP (or lack thereof), I’m not holding my breath. Despite these flaws, it’s still a great album. I might not have any jokes to tell you about that bar lady or the cheesy ass pick up lines you used. I might not even remember what happened last night, but I know I still had a good time.
Turned Our Backs
The Great Disruptors