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Sweet Apple - Love & Desperation

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Artist: Sweet Apple

Album: Love & Desperation

Label: Tee Pee

Review date: Apr. 22, 2010

The story goes that following a particularly emotionally draining year during which John Petkovic lost his mother, the Cleveland-based singer got in his car and drove straight to J. Mascis’s Massachusetts home. Out of this spontaneous journey emerged Sweet Apple, a project that in no subtle terms may have saved Petkovic’s life. Despite the apparently harrowing, down right depressing circumstances under which this record came to be, Love & Desperation is one hell of a good time. A testament to both the cathartic, healing power of rock, as well the undeniable joy to be found in an arena-sized riff, Sweet Apples’s debut makes for excellent listening.

Comprising indie luminaries Mascis (who primarily handles drum duties, and some guitar and vocals) and Petkovic, as well as Witch’s Dave Sweetapple, and Petkovic’s Cobra Verde partner-in-crime Tim Parnin on bass, Sweet Apple leans more in the direction of Cobra Verde’s cracked glam-rock, then Dinosaur Jr.’s thick syrupy pop shred.

The pairing of Petkovic and Mascis is not new to Sweet Apple, however, as the latter was a touring member of Cobra Verde for a brief time in the mid-’00s. While that tour saw Mascis gilding Cobra Verde’s power art-rock with his unmistakably gnarled six-string work, Sweet Apple offers a more fully integrated mixture of the two artists’ respective visions. For years now, both Dinosaur Jr. and Cobra Verde have had one foot placed firmly in windows-down/volume-up classic rock, and Love and Desperation revels in that muscled sound. Traces of Cheap Trick, Bad Company, Boston, Deep Purple, and Grand Funk abound. Yet the album never ventures into generic radio rock, despite a clear appreciation of that very style. Big booming drums, out sized riffs, slick synths, and “bong-rattling bass” (to borrow a phrase from a wise man) are all played for pure kicks.

Lyrically, the album tends to focus on Petkovic’s long-running fascination with the dichotomy of hedonism as both a life-affirming and life-destroying force; as a source of joy and loss. On “Flying up a Mountain,” Petkovic sings of being drunk at six and having fucked at thirteen, yet he was also a Marxist at eight. No knuckle-headed libertine is he. On “Hold Me I’m Dying” he sings “we’re dying/so let’s fuck, fuck, fuck/til we die.” Makes sense I guess. While on “Somebody Else’s Problem,” Petkovic calls himself a “vampire without the fangs” who will still “suck your soul away.” In the end, though, death for predator and/or prey “just isn’t worth the time.” “I Can’t See You,” however, flips the script and chronicles the fateful car ride following his mother’s passing that led to Sweet Apple’s existence. It’s a departure in terms of content and is arguably the album’s most heartfelt and invigorating moment.

Love and Desperation succeeds because of its contradictory nature. It’s a big old classic rock record played by guys whose careers are based on monkeying with those tropes; it’s a fun, upbeat record born out of the most extreme sadness; and it’s a record of grief and grieving that explores unchecked hedonism and madness. Most importantly, it got Petkovic through the night, and while one certainly would never wish his pain on another, it would probably work for others, too.

By Nate Knaebel

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