Led by singer/guitarist Matt Carges and singer/bassist/guitarist Mike Levy, San Francisco’s Sneetches were one of the most tasteful, consistently tuneful pop bands on the American scene. Echoes of the Zombies, Left Banke and Easybeats (they’ve covered songs by all three) abound; simple, uncluttered arrangements let their like-minded originals’ substantial charms shine through.
Demos made as a fledgling three-piece found their way to a UK label, which released the eight songs as Lights Out! The rudimentary recording quality only adds to the fresh, unpretentious appeal of beat numbers like “I Need Someone” and pretty, atmospheric tracks like “Lorelei.”
Sometimes That’s All We Have delivers what Lights Out! only promised. Behind the engaging, sunny choruses and bouncy lovescapes lies a healthy dose of Syd Barrett-sized neuroses. The album is bursting with brilliant production and arranging ideas: the piano and handclap break in the rocking “Nowhere at All,” the worn-vinyl intro to “Another Shitty Day,” pedal steel and finger-snapping on “Don’t Turn Back,” the almost campy ooh-la-la-la’s of “In a Perfect Place.” The songs by Levy and Carges float right into your subconscious, and the band displays its muscle when you least expect it. (The CD adds a Sneetched-out version of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin”‘ from a 1990 flexi-disc.)
The addition of a second Englishman, bassist (and former Stingray) Alejandro “Alec” Palao, to a lineup that already included dapper drummer Daniel Swan (who cut his teeth with the Cortinas), allowed Levy to move to guitar and gave the Sneetches a new forcefulness on the 1989 12-inch “Please Don’t Break My Heart,” which also includes a fired-up dash through the Monochrome Set’s “He’s Frank.” The comparatively raw nature of that teaser, plus inspired live shows riddled with Buzzcocks or Wire raveups, hardly prepared fans for Slow, a sparse, yet somehow dreamier and darker vision of Sneetches-brand popedelia. “Heloise” and “Broke Up in My Hands” are among the bongo-driven favorites on this lovely and unusual no- fixed-decade release. The CD adds a spot-on cover of the Left Banke’s gorgeous “She May Call You Up Tonight.”
Besides reissuing the Sneetches’ debut, the 1985 – 1991 compilation ties up some loose ends by gathering three tracks from a 1989 12-inch (including a peppy reworking of the Monochrome Set’s “He’s Frank”), outtakes from Slow and Sometimes That’s All We Have, four new songs and a version of the Raspberries’ “I Wanna Be With You” recorded with vocal assistance by Shoes. Tying for top tune honors: a superb reading of the Easybeats’ “Pretty Girl” and the gentle, flowing “Just Another Lonely One,” which may be the best thing the Sneetches have ever recorded.
The Think Again mini-album collects several Bus Stop singles — it’s a tad harder-edged than the earlier stuff but no less melodically stimulating. “…And I’m Thinking” is a Revolver-ish prize, the piano- based “A Good Thing” is devastatingly beautiful and the cover of the Buffalo Springfield’s “Flying on the Ground Is Wrong” nearly eclipses the original. Obscure Years collects the seven tracks that make up Think Again and adds seven more outstanding cuts, including an amazingly intense run-through of Vanda/Young’s “Watch Me Burn,” the Monkee-ish “This Time” and the languid “Come Along With Me,” which contains the inspirational couplet “You think he’s funny / But he’s such a dummy.” (Starfucker separates out the seven cuts not from Think Again.)
The all-new Blow Out the Sun is a good-as-ever distillation of the Sneetches’ influences, meshed into a brilliantly conceived and fully realized record. “A Light on Above” and “What I Know,” in particular, come off like long-lost Lennon/McCartney/Vanda/Young/Argent/Blunstone (whew!) collaborations — yet still sound totally contemporary. Great!
A one-off collaboration with former Flamin Groovies singer/guitarist Chris Wilson resulted in the seven-song Chris Wilson and the Sneetches: three Groovies tunes (“Between the Lines,” “I’ll Cry Alone” and “Slow Death”) performed live at the DNA Lounge (Groovies alumnus Roy Loney joins in on “Slow Death”), full-band versions of cuts from Wilson’s early ’90s acoustic album, Random Centuries, and a nice, 12-string-drenched version of Goffin/King’s “Goin’ Back.”