In 1978 Epic Records released what is arguably one of the greatest live hard rock albums of all time, TED NUGENT's "Double Live Gonzo". The classic lineup of The Nuge (lead guitar/lead vocals), Derek St. Holmes (rhythm guitar/lead vocals), Rob Grange (bass), and the late Cliff Davies (drums) will never be equaled. Thirty years later and we've got another live release called "Sweden Rocks" from the much older, but no mellower, NUGENT who performs with bassist/vocalist Barry Sparks and drummer/vocalist Mick Brown. There have, of course, been live albums released in the intervening years ("Full Bluntal Nugity", etc); it's just that the 30-year mark is significant in that the Motor City Madmen can still shred like a lunatic and deliver a high-energy rock 'n' roll performance like few others. This performance from the Sweden Rock Festival in 2006 proves it again.
It is quite simple, really; Nugent fans will love "Sweden Rocks" and a handful of newcomers may appreciate it. Most others will focus on Ted's right-of-insanity rants and politically incorrect diatribes and ignore the music. That's too bad because "Sweden Rocks" is hard rock the way it was meant to be played: loud and unhinged. Not surprisingly, Ted still packs the majority of his performances with classics from the first three albums of his solo career: 1975's self-titled album ("Snakeskin Cowboys", "Hey Baby", "Stranglehold", and "Stormtroopin'"), 1976's "Free-For-All" ("Dog Eat Dog" and the title track), and 1977's "Cat Scratch Fever" ("Wang Dang Sweet Poon Tang" and the title track). No complaints here with two possible exceptions. Sparks only sings lead on "Hey Baby", allowing something closer to the soulful St. Holmes treatment than what Ted is capable of delivering. While "Stormtroopin'" and "Dog Eat Dog" are acceptable with Ted singing, it would have been better to hand the reigns over to Sparks for "Snakeskin Cowboys" and "Stranglehold". Sparks is no St. Holmes, but the songs require a smoother vocal approach than what Ted can bring.
The other issue is a relatively minor one, the absence of a rhythm guitarist. Ted has gone the trio route for several years now and his bass players have filled the void left by the second guitar to some extent (Sparks' bass work on the jam session segments of "Wango Tango" is most notable), but songs like "Cat Scratch Fever" could really use it. However, it's more me nitpicking than anything else and doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the performance. I might also add that the threesome's hard left turn into a stone-cold blues jam toward the end of "Wang Dang Sweet Poon Tang" is bad to the bone.
There is no letup in firepower on the remaining tracks. "Raw Dogs & War Hogs" and "Still Raisin' Hell" are great examples Ted's resurgence and much-improved songwriting on 2002's "Craveman" and 2007's "Love Grenade". The trio's rendition of "Soul Man" is a pleasant surprise (he's performed "Midnight Hour" on past tours as well), while "Great White Buffalo" from THE AMBOY DUKES era, which was turned into a classic on "Double Live Gonzo", will always be an essential part of the set. Sure, the lyrics to "Wango Tango" are goofy, but it's good fun nonetheless and works well as a wild 'n' wooly jam.
Small criticisms aside, "Sweden Rocks" is a fun ride, especially if you're a fan. It harkens back to an era when live albums offered more than just studio sessions with crowd noise pumped in, although no one would ever mistake it for a "Double Live Gonzo", a "Kick Out the Jams", or a "Strangers in the Night". A DVD of the same performance will be released on June 10.