Sweet Jesus
Messiah and higher
SWEET JESUS are glamouring for your attention with their debut single. PAUL LESTER sucks on their lolly-pop while STEPHEN SWEET (hey!) takes pix.
"We're more Madonna than Mega City Four," says junior Warren Beatty impersonator, Ben Bentley, of SWEET JESUS, an outrageously promising gang of angels from Brum who look goth, sound glam and whose spirit is pure pop. "We haven't got that living-out-of-a-kitbag feel about us, and our fans don't live in tourer vans. We're into glamour and arrogance. We like Phil Spector for his Wall Of Sound and The Ronettes for their eyeliner."
For their virgin holy encounter with the music press, lead guitarist Roy Priest is smothered in jet black as if to emphasise their goth element. Ben, meanwhile, who normally has a feather boa round his neck and whose favourite words are "shiny" and "gold", wears a great floppy white tee-shirt with an enormous blow-up photo of Marc Bolan which naturally screams glam.
The pop angle, meanwhile, is sharpened by the pair when they claim that all they can recall about punk are the scandal banner headlines, Debbie Harry and "Denis Denis".
"I remember seeing 'Heart Of Glass' on TV when I was 12," shakes Ben with excitement, "and being stunned by this incredibly strange, blonde woman goddess figure singing at the front of this surreal, frosted video. She was so out of reach she was almost taboo. Now we want to be taboo for other people.
Sweet Jesus explore a few taboo subjects on the brilliant flash of light blue cool known as "Phonefreak Honey", their debut single proper (the previous "Honey Loving Honey" was a seven-inch only record in the Rough Trade Singles Club series), given a delicious translucent sheen by Ray "Sugarcubes / Sundays" Schulman.
You couldn't guess what they were singing about, however - Ben's androgynous falsetto (very Diana Ross) and Roy's hoover-wired-up-to-a-studio-console guitar (very Blondie-produced-by-Kevin-Shields) mean that all the words are lost in the mix. This, it transpires, isn't entirely accidental.
"We want to heighten our curiosity value, not diminish it," decides Ben, whose "breakdown" during his years studying architecture at college will clearly not be on today's interview agenda. "It's a bit like telling people how magic tricks are really done."
"Anyway," he continues, "I might have been traumatised for a while, but I'm trying to get over it now. I want to get all that junk out of my system. Junk? Yeah, you know, crap, rubbish, trauma. Not white powders, no. Listen, I don't want my 'mental' period to become a cheap thrill. I'm not selling angst, nor do I want it to saturate my every waking move. I want to escape it."
Ben's escape from his past will inevitably be helped by the success of Sweet Jesus and their retreat from the real world into pop. They are, along with Mercury Rev and Levitation, part of the rejuvenated, reinvigorated Rough Trade and only last week "Phonefreak Honey" was made Single Of The Week in MM.
The crowd, as they say, are going wild.
"We confuse people," says Ben. "I don't mean they stand there all calm and mildly perplexed - they're confused. As in haywire. They're baffled. And excited.
"And so are we," he gushes. "We love meeting our fans and giving them autographs and all that stuff. I write mine inside a little apple. It's got something to do with the Jackson 5."
Sweet as a nutter.
SWEET JESUS are: Roy Priest (Lead guitar), Dave Priest (Bass), Paul Collins (Drums), Ben Bentley (Vocals and guitar).
'Phonefreak Honey' is out now on Rough Trade.
Melody Maker, 15th February 1992.
Thanks to Jo Fisher for this clipping.
Sweet Jesus
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