Cut Above the Rest

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After recording Level Headed, an album that mostly forsaked their hard rock leanings for pure pop, longtime lead vocalist Brian Connolly left Sweet for good. The rest of the group decided to press on as a trio, combining their pop/rock sound with a variety of other musical styles in a bid to gain a more progressive image. The result was Cut Above the Rest, a bizarre combination of the hard-rocking pop that dominated classic Sweet singles with progressive flights of fancy in a 10cc/Electric Light Orchestra vein, plus a dash of lounge lizard-ish soft rock balladry thrown in to cover all the pop/rock bases. There's no way an album that tries do so many things at once could succeed at all of them, but Cut Above the Rest is a surprisingly listenable affair. When the elements jell, the songs are positively addictive: "Play All Night" is a blistering rocker that contrasts glam rock guitar riffs with candy-coated vocal harmonies worthy of Queen, and "Mother Earth" is an odd but fascinating hybrid of pop hooks and prog instrumental virtuosity that sounds like Electric Light Orchestra collaborating with Manfred Mann's Earth Band. "Eye Games" is another successful experiment, a purely acoustic tune with perceptive and witty lyrics about the dating rituals that take place in nightclubs. On the downside, Cut Above the Rest is weighed down by an unfortunate penchant for melodramatic balladry: the attractive harmonies that light up "Big Apple Waltz" are undone by its sappy romance lyrics, and "Hold Me" is histrionic to the point of being unintentionally funny. Despite these lapses, Cut Above the Rest is a distinctive and memorable outing whose experimental edge and strong craftsmanship make it stand out amongst Sweet's late-'70s output. It is too erratic for the casual listener, but hardcore Sweet fanatics will find plenty enjoy on this album.

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