Thank Christ Sweet Apple has arrived – and not a moment too soon. This is what the world needs right now: an honest-to-goodness rock ‘n’ roll record that’ll have children of all ages heading out to the garage to beat the living dogsnot out of their instruments. And it’s about time.
I’m dead serious here. Sweet Apple’s Love & Desperation is chock full of the kind of riffs and licks that guitar store showrooms are going to be full of for a long time to come – and the sort of choruses that will hook people into singing along and pounding out the beat on their car doors while they’re waiting for the light to change all over this land.
That’s right: this is the kind of music that would pack the same power and passion even if it were blasting out of a dashboard AM radio speaker. (That’s the way they used to make ‘em, boys and girls.) Hell, it’s meant to be blasted out of a dashboard AM radio speaker with the windows rolled down in all its empty-milkshake-cups-and-cheeseburger-wrappers-caught-up-in-a-floorboard-tornado-left-arm-tanning glory.
Who is Sweet Apple, you ask? Well, what you have here is a cross-pollinated thingamajig with entwined roots leading back to at least three different bands (Cobra Verde, Witch, and the Fog) with J Mascis being the common denominator. In Sweet Apple, Mascis’ weapons of choice are the drums and vocals with a little guitar thrown in here and there (you’ll know it when the time comes). Joining him in the engine room is bassist/vocalist Dave Sweetapple (Ah! The name!) while Tim Parnin and John Petkovic do the big guitars thang out front with Petkovic leading the way on vocals.
The quick backstory is as follows: Petkovic loses his mother after a long, hard battle with cancer. He takes to the road for some solitary head-clearing, adrift with no particular destination. An out-of-the-blue phone call from buddy Sweetapple results in Petkovic heading his way. Mascis’ arrival on the scene is the catalyst for a lets-get-a-band-together conversation. Petkovic heads back home focused with orders from Mascis: “Write some songs.” Parnin is enlisted for a second helping of guitar. Sweet Apple is born.
Though the songs for Love & Desperation came out of Petkovic’s grief-wrenched soul, this is by no means a collection of downer tunes. The album opener, “Do You Remember”, attains full velocity within seconds of liftoff, driven by chugging, crackling rhythm guitars and a “Raw Power”-style pounding piano. The simplest of choruses (“Hello it’s me/Do you remember?”) is wrapped around the sharpest of hooks and – BANG! – you’re a goner. There’s no escape.
The late Jay Bennett would’ve loved “I’ve Got A Feeling (That Won’t Change)” – pure power pop that’s a little bit raw with – what’s this? – a slather of keys in betwixt the layers of guitars, wumping bass, and thumping drums … just to tie the sonic casserole together like a nice cream of ‘shroom soup.
As mentioned, cool guitar riffs abound, from the cool down-the-neck slink of “Can’t See You” to the chunky strut of “Somebody Else’s Problem”. (Again, Jay Bennett comes to mind: his “Replace You” crossed with – honest – Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Don’t Ask Me No Questions”. Honest.) The thumpa-dum-dum backbeat of “Crawling Over Bodies” keeps things rolling and a’tumbling – until the 2:13 mark, when a single thick-toned guitar dances slowly above a shimmering, rumbling bass. Speaking of basslines, check out the “Whipping Post”-turned-inside-out intro to “Never Came” – more ominous than the shark warning on Jaws.
Ah – and getting back to that car radio theme: Love & Desperation is not all slam and crash, boys and girls. Ease the ol’ Chevelle down that gravel road by the levee, snuggle up under the stars, and let Sweet Apple set the mood. “Dead Moon” sounds like Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys sitting in a circle ‘round a driftwood fire. “It’s Over Now”, with its just-enough reverbed guitar entwined with a little sweet keys could be a lost gem from the sessions for the Ronnie Wood/Ronnie Lane classic Mahoney’s Last Stand. Nice …
Born of a circle of very talented friends who give a shit about each other, Sweet Apple is much, much more than an indie-rock supergroup slammed together for the sake of merchandise sales.
And Love & Desperation is one dashboard-rattling rock ‘n’ roll album.