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Matthew Sweet (& Susanna Hoffs)
Michael Sweet
Sweet Vine
Sweet 75


Supersister  (Netherlands)

Supersister, 'To the Highest Bidder'

To the Highest Bidder  (1971,  35.32/50.42)  ****/T

A Girl Named You
No Tree Will Grow (on Too High a Mountain)

Energy (Out of Future)
Higher
[CD adds:
A Girl Named You (single version)
Missing Link
No Tree Will Grow (single edit)
The Groupies of the Band]
Supersister, 'Pudding en Gisteren'

Pudding en Gisteren  (1972,  42.01/57.44)  ***/½

Radio
Supersisterretsisrepus
Psychopath
Judy Goes on Holiday
Pudding en Gisteren (Music for Ballet)
[CD adds:
Dead Dog
Wow (live)]
Supersister, 'Radio' 7"  (1972)  ***½/T½

Radio
Dead Dog

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

Supersister were one of the Dutch progressive scene's more unusual bands, sounding more like a stray Canterbury Scene act who'd taken a wrong turn and ended up across the North Sea in The Hague than any of their contemporaries. Their second album, 1971's To the Highest Bidder, is an excellent example of the style - far better than many genuine Canterbury acts, to be honest - from manic ten-minute opener A Girl Named You through the atmospheric No Tree Will Grow (On Too High A Mountain) to the particularly Canterbury-esque Energy (Out Of Future). Keys man Robert Jan Stips (later of Golden Earring and The Nits) plays what I take to be Hilversum Phonogram Studios' legendary M300 on two tracks, with background strings on A Girl Named You and strings and cellos on No Tree Will Grow; there may be other sounds used (clarinet? Organ bass?), but, assuming we're hearing that M300, it's hard to tell.

The following year's Pudding en Gisteren (Pudding & Yesterday) opens with its single, Radio, which lulls you into a false sense of security by wryly impersonating a cheesy little pop song until halfway through, when it suddenly turns into a bizarre, narrative-vs-male choir thing with a galloping backbeat. You can imagine perturbed DJs fading it as it heads off-piste... Ignoring the few-second reversed Supersisterretsisrepus (look closely at the title), Psychopath is another strange little song, before the more 'standard' prog moves of Judy Goes On Holiday - well, until it shifts into a bizarre doo-wop parody halfway through - and the side-long title track. It's that kind of album. Psychopath features a brief Mellotron section, with a string part towards the end from Stips, barely recognisable as such.

Radio was backed with the charmingly-titled Dead Dog, an atypically unjazzy slow instrumental, Stips adding Mellotron, with a string part (and possibly brass?) that sounds unM400-like enough to probably be that M300 again. You can now find the track on the expanded CD of Pudding..., although it sounds little like the rest of the album, for better or worse. Passable Mellotron work, but nothing you haven't heard many times before.

Official site

Surfers  (US)

Surfers, 'Songs From the Pipe'

Songs From the Pipe  (1998,  43.52)  **/TT

Australia
Never
If
Cause It's Me
Going
Not Your Slave
Spill
Alone By a Tree
Hawaii
Anything From You
Two Gether

Current availability:

Chamberlin used:

Led by champion surfer Kelly Slater, all three members of The Surfers really are surfers, beating The Beach Boys hands down, albeit only on that front. Songs From the Pipe (a surfing reference, obviously) was their sole album, but aside from the occasional nod to the early-'60s surf scene, notably Going and Not Your Slave, I think it would be fair to say that this record drips fake emotion like a surfboard drips water. It's as wet as the Pacific and as limp as a half-drowned surfer... OK, enough ludicrous surfing analogies already. The album does occasionally pick up the pace and closing acoustic guitar piece Two Gether is quite nice, but most of it is self-consciously 'modern rock', along the same lines as the horrible Matchbox Twenty and their ilk.

Patrick Warren does his usual Chamberlin session thing here; opener Australia is all Chamby strings, with flutes on Going and a beautifully upfront, cranky, slightly out of tune string solo section on Anything From You. It's the only thing that makes this half-arsed nonsense worth the effort, though, so don't go spending any money on this or anything. Incidentally, note how someone famous in a non-musical field can still release an album on Sony. Must've been his immense musical talent or something.

Official Kelly Slater site

Gregg Suriano  (US)

Gregg Suriano, 'Peace of the Rock'

Peace of the Rock  (1978,  32.53)  */T½

Where Do You Stand
It Must Be Love
Until He Came
Reason to Live
(I'd Rather Have) Believed a Lie
There's a Place
Jesus Lifts Me Above the Rain
The Last Days

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

I don't know what else Gregg Suriano might have done (hopefully nothing), but 1978's Peace of the Rock is a truly terrible late '70s Christian effort, played firmly in the über-mainstream US pop/rock style of the time, like an ultra-budget Steely Dan, without the wit or songwriting chops; England Dan & John Ford Coley, then. With Christian lyrics. I mean, closer The Last Days (a cheery exposition on the End Of The World) actually references 'the prince of darkness', which has to be worth a doom point or two, surely? Perhaps not. Worst track? Where do I start? It's all shite, frankly, so I don't know whether the upbeat likes of opener Where Do You Stand and Until He Came or the slushy Reason To Live and (I'd Rather Have) Believed a Lie are more vile. Hate them all equally and circumvent the problem.

Suriano and Frank Braile play Mellotron, with full-on flute, string and cello parts opening the balladic It Must Be Love plus a cello line running throughout and background strings on The Last Days. Listen to the first thirty seconds of the former and do your level best to avoid hearing any more of this pernicious crud. Shockingly, this is actually available on CD with bonus tracks, which I haven't heard, so their potential Mellotron usage will have to remain unknown.

Susanna  (Norway)  see: Samples etc.

Sierra Swan  (US)

Sierra Swan, 'Ladyland'

Ladyland  (2006,  43.55)  **½/T½

Copper Red
Don't Say
Get Down to it
Dr. Loverboy
The Ladder

Ladyland
Trouble is
Lucky Scar
Shakedown
Just Tell Me
Mother

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Ex-Dollshead Sierra 'daughter of Billy' Swan recorded an unreleased album for Atlantic in 2001, produced by Linda Perry (4 Non Blondes, loads of production work, fairy godmother to Bigelf), who negotiated a deal with Interscope after Swan's departure from her original label. As a result, her first official solo album is 2006's Ladyland, an indie/singer-songwriter effort of the kind you'd expect Perry to be involved with, meaning if you're in any way a typical Planet Mellotron reader, you're pretty unlikely to get much out of it, however well it's done. Most of the tracks are unusual piano-driven ballads, although after the first few, it all becomes much of a muchness, a little too sickly-sweet for comfort, although how much of this is down to the songwriting and how much to the production is impossible to say.

Perry plays Mellotron, amongst other things, with high background strings on Dr. Loverboy, The Ladder and Trouble Is and strings and flutes on Lucky Scar and Shakedown. Pretty much all the parts are irritatingly buried in the mix, effected heavily enough that it's possible that any or all of these are actually something else, while there may be more 'Tron tracks scattered across the album. Overall, done well enough (he said, grudgingly), but it's unlikely to grab you any more than it has me, with no real worthwhile Mellotron to liven things up.

Official site

Swan Lee  (Denmark)

Swan Lee, 'Enter'

Enter  (2000,  44.04)  ***/TT½

Flowers in the Wintertime
Go on
Enter
Stay Tonight
Walk With Me
Tomorrow Never Dies

You Cannot Hide
Dream Away
Stay
When You Are Gone
Swan Lee, 'Swan Lee'

Swan Lee  (2001,  43.44)  **½/½

Bring Me Back
Love Will Keep You Warm
I Don't Mind
What is Love?
What You Get...is What You See
Don't Take My Love
Find My Way Home
Perfume
In Your Life
Lord Knows, I Can Be Strong
Peace of Mind

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

Swan Lee (presumably named for the Syd Barrett song on his odds'n'ends collection Opel) were a Danish '60s-influenced pop group fronted by Pernille Rosendahl, then-girlfriend of major 'Tron user Tim Christensen. Enter is actually a pretty decent collection, mixing pre-psych influences with modern indie in a not entirely unpleasing fashion. Unsurprisingly, Christensen plays Mellotron on several tracks, with overt string parts on Stay Tonight and Tomorrow Never Dies, Christensen's unsuccessful attempt to write a Bond film theme. Lesser string parts on Walk With Me and Dream Away, although real strings are used in places, notably on Flowers In The Wintertime, Stay and When You are Gone.

To be honest, their eponymous second (and last) album really isn't a patch on their debut; the melancholic feel is largely gone, although some of the supposedly upbeat material has something of a wistful air about it. Very little of Christensen's 'Trons this time round, with just background strings on I Don't Mind, with real strings on Lord Knows, I Can Be Strong. So; I'd strongly recommend Swan Lee's first album over their second, but that's just me. It's also by far the better 'Tron record of the pair, and might actually not irritate the non-indie fan.

See: Tim Christensen

Swans  (US)

Swans, 'Love of Life'

Love of Life  (1992,  51.34/54.31)  ***½/T½

(-)
Love of Life
The Golden Boy That Was Swallowed By the Sea
(-)
(-)
The Other Side of the World
Her
The Sound of Freedom
(-)
Amnesia
Identity
(-)
In the Eyes of Nature
She Crys (for Spider)
God Loves America
(-)
[CD adds:
No Cure for the Lonely]

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

By 1992, Swans (no 'the'), former enfants terribles had dropped the extreme volume and titles like Public Castration is a Good Idea and had settled into a slightly-nearer-mainstream old age, before their eventual split. Michael Gira's voice is still gut-wrenchingly deep on Love of Life, and their sound still has disturbing aspects to it, but all in all, it's eminently listenable compared to their earlier work (in my humble opinion, of course).

There only seems to be 'Tron, played by female keyboardist Jarboe on two tracks. Both have a fair helping of strings, especially In The Eyes Of Nature, which starts with an almost-symphonic burst of the good ol' three violins. I can't really recommend this to Mellotron fans, to be honest, but it's a good album, deserving of a wider audience. Gira's gone on to do his Angels of Light project, among other things, and he's rumoured to have used 'Tron since Swans days; more news if I get to hear anything. Oh, and all those '(-)' tracks are essentially instrumental interludes, sometimes including found sounds or dialogue. And yes, I find the cover image quite disturbing, too.

Official site

See: Samples etc. | Angels of Light

Andrew Sweeny vs. Everything is Fine  (Canada/US)

Andrew Sweeny vs. Everything is Fine, 'Marrakesh/In the Black' MP3 single  (2004)  ****/T

Marrakesh
In the Black

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Canadian Andrew Sweeny and Americans Everything is Fine both fit the 'acid folk' tag pretty well, at least going by the tracks they've contributed to this virtual split single on Hinah, officially credited as Andrew Sweeny vs. Everything is Fine on the 'A' and the reverse on the 'B'. Two good songs that probably sound better late at night than driving along with the top down; a compliment, as only The Beach Boys can get away with that without being shit. Marrakesh is the gentler of the two, boding well for a full album, while Everything is Fine's is more ghostly, not to mention more out of tune, not that it seems to matter that much.

Mellotron cellos on In The Black from the mysteriously-named Burzinski, decent enough but ultimately not adding that much to the track. Given that these are freebies, you might just as well download them to see what you think, if modern psych/folk's your cup of tea in any way at all.

Matthew Sweet  (US)

Matthew Sweet, '100% Fun'

100% Fun  (1995,  41.16/48.20)  ****/T

Sick of Myself
Not When I Need it
We're the Same
Giving it Back
Everything Changes
Lost My Mind
Come to Love
Walk Out
I Almost Forgot
Super Baby
Get Older
Smog Moon
[bonus tracks:
Sense of Adventure
Slowly]
Matthew Sweet, 'Blue Sky on Mars'

Blue Sky on Mars  (1997,  36.40)  ***½/T

Come to California
Back to You
Where You Get Love
Hollow
Behind the Smile
Until You Break
Over it
Heaven and Earth
All Over My Head
Into Your Drug
Make Believe
Missing Time
Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs, 'Under the Covers, Vol.1'

Under the Covers, Vol.1  [as Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs]  (2006,  48.50)  ****/T

I See the Rain
And Your Bird Can Sing
It's All Over Now, Baby Blue
Who Knows Where the Time Goes?
Cinnamon Girl
Alone Again or
The Warmth of the Sun
Different Drum
The Kids Are Alright
Sunday Morning
Everybody Knows This is Nowhere
Care of Cell #44
Monday, Monday
She May Call You Up Tonight
Run to Me
Matthew Sweet, 'Sunshine Lies'

Sunshine Lies  (2008,  50.36)  ***½/T

Time Machine
Room to Rock
Byrdgirl
Flying
Feel Fear
Let's Love
Sunshine Lies
Pleasure is Mine
Daisychain
Sunrise Eyes
Around You Now
Burn Through Love
Back of My Mind
Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs, 'Under the Covers, Vol.2'

Under the Covers, Vol.2  [as Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs]  (2009,  64.00)  ***/½

Sugar Magnolia
Go All the Way
Second Hand News
Bell Bottom Blues
All the Young Dudes
You're So Vain
Here Comes My Girl
I've Seen All Good People
Hello it's Me
Willin'
Back of a Car
Couldn't I Just Tell You
Gimme Some Truth
Maggie May
Everything I Own
Beware of Darkness
Matthew Sweet, 'Modern Art'

Modern Art  (2011,  42.00)  ***½/T

Oh, Oldendaze!
Ivory Tower
She Walks the Night
When Love Lets Go I'm Falling
Ladyfingers
A Little Death
Late Nights With the Power Pop
Baltimore
My Ass is Grass
December Dark
Modern Art
Sleeping

Current availability:

Mellotrons used:

Matthew Sweet is one of the quintessential practitioners of powerpop, not as in The Knack, but as in Big Star crossed with Jellyfish, or an American Badfinger. A glorious mixture of pop and rock, more Beatles than Cheap Trick, but in thrall to both, while sounding like neither. His commercial breakthrough came with his third album, 1991's Girlfriend, although his fifth, '95's 100% Fun, is apparently a rather darker proposition, named for a phrase from Kurt Cobain's suicide note, fact fans. There isn't a bad track here, to be honest, although some of you may not go for the smattering of more country-inclined numbers such as I Almost Forgot. Overall, we're talking powerpop heaven, which will doubtless only get better with repeated plays (one day, one day...). Credited Mellotron (from seemingly the Mellotron's lost advocate, producer Brendan O'Brien) on two tracks, with some lovely volume-pedalled strings on Lost My Mind, although whatever's being played on Super Baby is, sadly, inaudible.

Two years on, Blue Sky on Mars is also stuffed to the gills with excellent material, only... maybe a fraction less excellent than on its predecessor. Despite containing songs of the quality of the insanely short Over It, there seems to be rather less sonic variety than before; is that the problem? Dunno, but it's still a far better record than, ooh, 99.9% of Sweet's contemporaries produced that year, so I'm not sure what I'm complaining about. Two 'Tron tracks from Brendan O'Brien again, with a few string chords on Behind The Smile and some interesting pitchbend work on Into Your Drug.

In 2006, Sweet paired up with Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles to record an album of '60s covers, Under the Covers, Vol.1 (oo-er, Matthew). Part of the fun with this kind of album is, without looking at the tracklisting, seeing how quickly you can spot each song, depending, of course, on how closely it sticks to the original. Not too many problems here; this isn't an album of reinterpretations, by and large, but one of two fans of the era recording accurate copies of some of their favourite songs, albeit with a little of their own personalities inserted. Amongst the artists tackled are Neil Young (Cinnamon Girl and Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, both from the same album), The Who (The Kids Are Alright), Sandy Denny (Who Knows Where The Time Goes?, also recorded by Fairport Convention during her tenure), Love (Alone Again Or), Dylan (It's All Over Now, Baby Blue), The Beatles (And Your Bird Can Sing) and The Mamas & the Papas (Monday Monday, rather than the more obvious choice). Notably, I didn't know several, including opener I See The Rain (The Marmalade), The Warmth Of The Sun (obviously The Beach Boys) and closer The Bee Gees' Run To Me. There really isn't a bad track here, but given a) the vast pool of suitable material and b) the collective talents of Sweet and Hoffs, nor should there be. Sweet plays Mellotron on Different Drum (Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys, apparently), with background string and flute parts, while the string part on The Zombies' Care Of Cell (#)44 accurately reproduces the original.

Sweet released his first album of new material for four years, Sunshine Lies, in 2008 and it's pretty much as if nothing's changed. Maybe it hasn't. Another (slightly overlong, admittedly) selection of powerpop mini-gems, particularly opener Time Machine, although there's few dips here. Full-on Mellotron strings on the aforementioned Time Machine from Sweet, although, sadly, that appears to be it on the 'Tron front.

2009 brought Sweet and Hoffs' second volume of covers, er, Under the Covers, Vol.2, this time tackling the '70s. Will there be a Vol.3 of '80s tracks? Let's hope not. I have to say, spotting the original artists is a lot tougher this time round, although this is the decade when I was first listening to the radio. It seems to me that '60s hits are pretty much '60s hits, whether in the UK or the States (within reason, naturally), Sweet and Hoffs both clearly being huge fans of what Americans refer to as the 'British Invasion'. In the following decade, however, the two countries' charts diverged wildly; Britain's early '70s glam explosion barely touching the States, while their 'canyon rock' west coast style left the UK largely unmoved. Theories: I shit 'em... Although I recognised Bell Bottom Blues, You're So Vain and Hello It's Me by their titles (Derek & the Dominoes, Carly Simon and Todd Rundgren, respectively), the first genuine 'I know that!' track here is Mott the Hoople's iconic All The Young Dudes (a gift from Bowie, obviously), plus Yes' I've Seen All Good People (can you imagine British artists including anything by Yes?), Rod Stewart's Maggie May and their countryish take on George Harrison's Beware Of Darkness that, frankly, I only really know from Spock's Beard's excellent version.

Other artists tackled include Little Feat (Willin'), Fleetwood Mac (Second Hand News), The Grateful Dead (opener Sugar Magnolia) and John Lennon (Gimme Some Truth), although all but a handful of tracks here were unfamiliar to this listener. Maybe it'll make more sense in its home market. To be brutally honest, this is a bit of a disappointment, especially after the excellence of its predecessor, which has nothing to do with the talents of Sweet and Hoffs and everything to do with the weakness of the source material. Sweet's Mellotron use isn't individually credited this time, but all I can hear is what sounds like church organ at the end of I've Seen All Good People; amusing, given that, despite Yes' reputation, there's no Mellotron on the original album.

Sweet's first originals album for three years, 2011's Modern Art, is exactly what you'd expect of a Matthew Sweet album, which is no bad thing. Take that, progression fiends. Pretty much everything except the title track is bright, breezy powerpop with the required melancholic edge, top tracks including the jangly, Byrds-esque She Walks The Night, Ladyfingers and the ironic Late Nights With The Power Pop, while Sweet's Mellotron only seems to be present on the piano-led title track, with a distant string part that enhances the song nicely.

So; if intelligent, well-written pop/rock sounds like it could be your thing, I think you need to hear Matthew Sweet. There are only two essential Mellotron tracks here (excluding the note-for-note Zombies cover), 100% Fun's Lost My Mind and Sunshine Lies' Time Machine, but that's really not why you'll buy these records.

Official site

Michael Sweet  (US)

Michael Sweet, 'Truth'

Truth  (2000,  55.06/63.21)  **½/T

Distracted
All I'm Thinking of (is You)
I am Adam
Blue Bleeds Through
Wool & Chiffon
Save Me
Ever After
Tomorrow
Lift My Head
Truth
Achilles Heel
Stone
[bonus tracks:
It's All About Your Face
Water]

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Michael Sweet: ring any bells? Nope, nothing to do with the vastly more talented Matthew (above). Remember Stryper? Yeah, 'course you do; ludicrous Christian hair-metal buffoons? Threw bibles out into the audience? Yeah, you remember. Well, our mate Mikey was the singer. As you can see, he's toned his image down a little, but it seems the message remains the same. Truth (yawn) is a Christian rock album, sounding pretty contemporary for 2000, not unlike reluctant God-botherers King's X in places, but without everything that makes that band the phenomenon they were and are. Most of the material chugs along well enough, apart from bilious ballad Stone that closes proceedings, but it's all rather uninspired, to be honest, in a 'modern rock' kind of way; y'know, a bit downtuned, a bit riffless metal (see: Alter Bridge et al.), a bit... well, dull, really.

Bob Marlette (is that a small Bob Marley?) plays Mellotron on a track or two, with near-inaudible strings on the album's most King's X-ish track, Lift My Head (er, Over My Head?), and more upfront ones on Achilles Heel, though whether it's real will have to remain a mystery, no doubt like God's love etc.etc. So; boring Christian hard rock. I really wouldn't bother, unless you're completely ga-ga for this kind of stuff and approve of/can tolerate the lyrics.

Official site

Sweet Vine  (US)

Sweet Vine, 'Sweet Vine'

Sweet Vine  (1997,  54.54)  ***/½

Mountainside
Candy for Fools
Downside of Wonder
Castles and Hovels
All I Could Do
Up to You
Three Times Denied
Evergreen
Another Day Gone
First Time
Ever Made Love to Be

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

I can't tell you an awful lot about Sweet Vine (named for a Humble Pie song, apparently), other than that they were from Sacramento and released just the one, eponymous LP (on Columbia, no less). It fits (extremely) loosely into the late '90s niche market of retro groove-rock outfits like Cry of Love, although influenced chiefly by The Allmans, as against that outfit's Hendrix obsession, better tracks including the groovy Three Times Denied (what was I saying about not having a Hendrix influence?) and soulful closer Ever Made Love To Be, although I'm not sure why other online reviewers rave on about rather ordinary opener Mountainside. Downsides? Too much of a '60s r'n'b influence for my tastes, not enough '70s riffage.

Keys man Gary Frank Skaggs (clearly related to Ricky) plays Mellotron strings on Ever Made Love To Be, in a rare departure from the lovely, grinding Hammond he uses heavily elsewhere. Sweet Vine is a decent enough effort, although a mid-album lull and too many overlong tracks docks it a half star. Would you buy it for its Mellotron use, though? Not really, no.

Sweet 75  (US)

Sweet 75, 'Sweet 75'

Sweet 75  (1997,  50.03)  **½/T

Fetch
Lay Me Down
Bite My Hand
Red Dress
La Vida
Six Years
Take Another Stab
Poor Kitty
Ode to Dolly
Dogs
Cantos de Pilon
Nothing
Japan Trees
Oral Health

Current availability:

Mellotron used:

Sweet 75 were Krist Novoselic's first post-Nirvana project; sadly for him, they were rather less successful than Dave Grohl's 'why are they that popular?' Foo Fighters. Like Grohl, though, Novoselic switched to guitar, proving that most musicians actually want to be guitarists, falling back on other instruments because someone's got to play them. And I should know. Their one and only album, '97's Sweet 75, is best described as 'post grunge', I think, sounding not a million miles away from the aforementioned Foo Fighters, though clearly without their nebulous X factor. It sounds like a noisier variety of pop/rock to me, with a few nice moments (the Rush-ish guitar figure in Lay Me Down, a few guitar intros), but overall, a rather disappointing collection of so-so songs, sung by 'must be her real name' Yva Las Vegas, including the Spanish-language Cantos De Pilon, a brave experiment that doesn't quite work.

Producer Paul Fox plays Mellotron on a couple of tracks and Orchestron on another, sounding close enough to the 'Tron to be mistaken for it in poor light. String parts on both opener fetch and Red Dress, sounding pretty real, and Orchestron strings on Lay Me Down, making you think (as so often) that it could've been used on a few more tracks and have fitted perfectly well. So; a rather ordinary record only (vaguely) notable for its Nirvana connection, not much Mellotron.

Official site


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