"SweetKenny" Sutton's newest paid album, "Management"! Released through Waterfall Records on June 13th, this is the 26th official paid studio album from SweetKenny, as well as the 10th of his that we have reviewed on the SMS dating back to 2012. As has been his primary focus for the past three years, this is yet another instrumental album designed for use as a score in film, TV, or movie productions, with an intended plotline given about a CIA agent named Kenneth (naturally) who must locate and stop a spy in "management" before Russian operatives get the chance. Note that Ken just released another score album named "Monster" to his website earlier this month, but as it's just a free posting at present, I didn't consider it for this album review. Featuring Ken on all instruments, you can buy "Management" on iTunes for $9.99, and you can stream it on Spotify, Apple Music, and his website.
And as recently usual, song names below are linked to their website copies. With 12 tracks running for about 40 minutes in length, let's begin this review with the first song, "Botched Invasion"! A short 96 second composition, this has a grand, American patriotic flavour to it with quick military drum rolls and horn instrument effects. It serves it's purpose as an introduction, but it's not a full "song" in & of itself, and doesn't evoke an invasion of any kind to me.
"Kenneth" (the fictional CIA agent, not SweetKenny himself), which is slightly longer and has more going for it conceptually, with a dark ominous vibe, like Kenneth is covertly on a mission. Simplistic guitars and well timed orchestration help pace things nicely, and the piano at the end is placed effectively too. This felt like it could have been longer, as it felt like it was building to bigger and more dramatic things, but it gets the job done in the story! That's followed by "Management Tower", which goes even more ethereal and spacey with it's instrumentation here, almost as if it should be on Echoes on 98.3 FM on Sunday mornings. Rapid military drumming mid-way through helps disturb the chilled out nature, but the string input adds to the grandiosity. This would be a good song for a long late-night drive, and it's well composed overall, but this doesn't feel all that evocative of it's name.
Next is "Russian Trouble", which immediately takes on a darker and more industrial sound that is far more suited to the theme of the album, and regardless of the enemies' nationality, you know they're making their presence felt! The electronic effects add some zest, but the bassy and deliberate sound keeps things serious and purposeful. I'd have added a subtle Russian music element to enhance the mood, and it does run a little overlong, but so far, this is the best track on "Management"! Then we have "Kenneth's Secrets", which is a piano-driven number that returns to deliberately ominous territory, almost as if the Russian agents are looking for the title secrets at this point. While not as laid back as "Management Tower", this has more ethereal qualities, with isolated piano input and extra effects laid overtop, and while nowhere near as intense as "Russian Trouble", the album is getting better for reflecting the song names!
"The Interrogation" follows next, and this song almost feels like it belongs in a horror movie than a spy thriller, especially with that high pitched eerie note midway through, and as bookended by more ominous and dark performing and effects. If you didn't give me the title, I'd have easily bought this as taking place in a haunted house! Like on the album openers, this doesn't evoke an interrogation room at all, but then again, who knows what kind of "interrogating" is being done. They have to get answers somehow! The second half begins with "Observation", which is more of an electronic number that at times feels like it could be background music in a Super Nintendo game. The higher tempo music somewhat evokes winter and the cold, but it maintains a steady techno rhythm and pace throughout, and has some more industrial machinery tinges late. I don't really get an "observation" vibe here, but for what it is, it gets the job done!
The next two tracks are "Code Name 28 (Arrangement 1)" & "Code Name 28 (Arrangement 2)", and as you can probably see already, these are different takes on the same song in the score (one assumes 28 is Kenneth's code name.) These continue the electronic path from "Observation", and each has a mid-tempo pacing that eschews most traditional rock elements. "Arrangement 2" differs from the original with harsher and more distorted effects, evoking a more computerized ambiance, but each is the same base composition. Not my favourite song(s) on the album, but techno fans will find something here! I preferred "Arrangement 1" for it's less abrasive sound. Next is "Spies & Dark Women", which is the album's longest track. We return to more ominous and drawn out territory here, with some electronic elements still present, but not nearly as in your face this time. This song seems to go in stages, with things quieting down a bit in the middle before ramping up the drama late, and even returning to SweetKenny's hard rock past for a bit, and I definitely welcome charging guitars here!
This song is a bit of a piecemeal number, but there are enough strong elements (especially late) to make it worthwhile! The penultimate track is a similarly long number named "The Penthouse", which is more up-tempo while still retaining it's predecessor's dramatic qualities, and at this late stage of the score, you know things have ramped up in intensity! The percussion has catchy qualities, especially when it takes center stage, and the tension is there, but this song has more repetition than I'd like, especially compared to how varied it's predecessor was. Not a bad number, but I'd have cut it down some. The album closes with "Management Trailer Theme", presumably what Ken would use in commercials for the movie this score would be used with if it was up to him. Running for an album-low 73 seconds, this reminds me slightly of the Criminal Minds theme music, only with eerier qualities as it builds. For a CIA thriller film, this would be good background music, and I can picture a chase to it, so it works for what it is!
So, what are my final thoughts on SweetKenny's newest paid score album? Well, having now reviewed five of his scores, I'm at least familiar now with how these kinds of albums go, and I can safely say that while this isn't the best of those five (that's still "The Hitman Files"), this has enough positive qualities to deserve a listen! Fans hoping for a full length follow-up to "In Your Face" will want to look elsewhere for new traditional material (namely his recent singles), but for techno-infused rock instrumentals and atmospheric backing tracks, this has enough going for it in those areas as songs alone. When we last reviewed Ken's "The Dogs Are Watching" score, I felt that it's reliance on dark techno was well suited to it's intended storyline about government hackers, but for a CIA spy thriller, I'm not so sure that the same genre fits as well, and even then, the titles of many tracks were not evocative of the song at all, like "Botched Invasion" & "Interrogation". Of course, if you were to license these songs for a score, you could theoretically use them in other ways, but it's just something I noticed.
Fans of SweetKenny's scores will want to take a listen, as there's enough eerie and ominous techno and rock instrumentals here to find something you like, so buy or stream it (and much more) at the above links! I hope you guys liked this month's CD review, and as for next month, I am tentatively planning to review Northwest's new EP "Songs From 2015-2017", which is expected to be released on December 22nd at their LopLops Lounge release concert, which we will cover on the site later this week. That's all for today, but stay tuned for weekend concert previews on Thursday! Thanks everyone!