When Queens of the Stone Age announced its hiatus, nearly all of its members left for new projects. So far, you may have heard about two of them. Multi-instrumentalist Dean Fertita is playing with some guy named Jack White in the Dead Weather. Founding-member Josh Homme went on to join a little band called Them Crooked Vultures. Now, guitarist Troy Van Leeuwen is throwing his hat into the fray with his new band, Sweethead. It doesn’t look like his luck will be as good as that of the other two.
Spawned in 2008, Sweethead features Van Leeuwen and singer Serrina Sims. Together, they make what is supposed to be the core of a four-person band. The group has been touring since arriving on the scene and has built up to this moment: the release of its self-titled debut. The results … are incredibly disappointing.
Rather than strive into new territory while keeping some familiarity of its past projects, Sweethead actively borrows from everywhere, sounding much more like those two aforementioned groups. If you listen to Sims’ vocals for even just 10 seconds, Alison Mosshart will probably be one of the first names that spring into your head. It’s not to say that they’re remotely in the same league. While Mosshart can move from seductive to dangerous to furious over the course of several tracks, Sims is stuck half-moaning/half-angrily singing over every number. The music itself is comprised of a combo between Them Crooked Vultures and QOTSA (“Sinkhole International” is the worst offender for this). It doesn’t leave much sense of originality or even effort to move away from covered ground.
So what else is wrong? It can pretty much be summed up in five words: There are no strong hooks. From beginning to end, not one song on this album creates a melody catchy enough to sustain it. The closest the record comes to success is on “Amazing Vanishing Conquest”, which has a lighter tone than the rest of the non-acoustic tracks, and on “Turned Our Backs”. Neither of them is good enough to hear more than once, though.
Unfortunately, the worst part of Sweethead comes from what should have been the best: the guitar. Van Leeuwen is the founder of the group, but he doesn’t have enough riffs in the bag to make it through three minutes, never mind the whole album. Every attempt at soloing is so drowned out in distortion that it’s nearly impossible to tell what’s being played. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if the solos in “The Sting” and “P.I.G.” were the same, as they use similar sets of effects that blur out any semblance of specific notes. More often than not, the guitar is simply a non-presence, a tough notion for a band driven by the six-string instrument.
If there’s anything good about Sweethead, it’s drummer Norm Block (from ’90s-goth, noise-rock band Plexi). He uses every song as an opportunity to expand the percussion in a different direction. “The Sting” kicks off with a combo of clapping hands and similar-sounding drums. “Turned Our Backs” has a rolling, thunderous beat that creates a massive feeling of energy, and “Amazing Vanishing Conquest” throws in a semi-military drum roll to ease the track into a slower gear. All in all, Block’s the best part of this album and keeps it from being a total wreck.
Sweethead‘s failure mainly comes from one simple problem: The songs aren’t there. Without the tunes, you’ve got nothing. At this point, it seems like the best course of action the band can take is to see how the others have done it. Use your past sound to push forward into new territory. ‘Cause as it stands, the only territory Sweethead can claim is the mud it’s stuck in.