Rachel Sweet

B.A.B.Y.: The Best of Rachel Sweet

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It's very easy to remember Rachel Sweet as little more than a juvenile novelty within the Stiff Records canon, one more in a long line of headline-grabbing oddities who vanished from the radar around the same time as people stopped caring what the label itself was up to. To do so, however, serves up a dreadful injustice, to Sweet of course, but also to anyone who actually sits down to listen to Sweet's Stiff Records output and discovers there a treasure trove of excellence. Her Fool Around debut album, in particular, was a masterpiece, a country-new wave hybrid a decade ahead of its time, and littered with some sensational performances -- "Who Does Lisa Like" is only the most obvious, the almost shockingly mature "Wildwood Saloon" only the most surprising. Of course there were a few obligatory bubblegum boppers in there, but when the novelty factor gets too grating, it's the songs ("Cuckoo Clock," "Girl with a Synthesizer") that jar, not the singer. Sweet's second album, Protect the Innocent, was less enthralling, although a lovely cover of the Velvet Underground's "New Age" and a strange take on the Damned's "New Rose" both thrill, while Sweet also unleashed a positively beautiful take on the oldie "I Go to Pieces." All of which lines B.A.B.Y. up as an excellent collection, and a fitting tribute to a singer who should never have been allowed to fade away as she did. At her best, she really was one of the best.

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