09 February 2009
Album Review: Sweet Water - Clear the Tarmac
Sweet Water used to be a post-grunge band in the 90s, combining grunge with pop elements. They were from Seattle and everything. The key phrase is "used to be." (Well, they're still from Seattle, but some things can't be helped.) Their latest album, Clear the Tarmac, is as much grunge as Buddy Holly was emo, and Sweet Water is proud to admit it. I really can't imagine what the transition from half-grunge to pop rock must have been like. Is there an organization called Grungers Anonymous? Are there 12 steps involved?
Whatever the case may be, Sweet Water makes every effort to convince the listener that they are relevant after their self-imposed hiatus, and I have to say I'm impressed. It's sugar sweet, energetic and peppy, a real guilty pleasure. I listen to the lyrics and I think, Well, those aren't very good lyrics, but I don't care. It doesn't matter that "Grass Is Green," the album opener, begins Hey/Oh/I found shelter/Under your hair's soft canopy/Time passes slowly/When I'm with you/I can't believe the grass is green. What makes the song special is the tremendous emotion that's put into the song and the catchy rhythm. Adam Czeisler has a great voice for the music his band makes. It's like Hamilton Leithauser of The Walkmen (the guy with his voice stuck in his sinuses) listened to Mick Jagger and decided to reconsider his style. And then the band decided to back up Adam with some Weezer-style background falsettos. And then they do it for an entire album.
Should they tone it down? Telling Sweet Water to tone it down would be like telling James Brown to stop being so funky. That would be going against their respective modi operandi. Also, James Brown is dead so you can't tell him what to do. But the point stands. Czeisler's tenor voice deserves adequate backing, and the other three band members oblige, with some faux power pop. You can hear the best parts of U2--the uncompromising guitar, the drawn-out cries in the upper register--and some spiritual channeling of Boston's bright eyed vocal choruses. The acoustic guitar strums that reinforce the rhythm heighten the action, never letting a song sit and stutter. Props also go to Paul Uhlier, whose agile drumwork propels the album into the stratosphere.
I hope it never comes down.
Clear the Tarmac was released by Golden City on February 7.