Sparks

Picture of Sparks

Kimono My House

Sparks - Kimono My House ©1974 Island
1. This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us
2. Amateur Hour
3. Falling In Love With Myself Again
4. Here In Heaven
5. Thank God It's Not Christmas
6. Hasta Mañana Monsieur
7. Talent Is An Asset
8. Complaints
9. In My Family
10. Equator
11. Barbecutie
12. Lost And Found

Dear faceless internet person,
Have you ever heard Sparks? Have you heard 70s pre-disco Sparks? I hope so. In fact, it's imperative that you have, as your ears haven't experienced what true bliss power pop, or whatever the hell this odd racket is, can be.

At the core of the band we have the Mael brothers: Russel on amazingly macho vocals (almost everyone who hears him think it's a female vocalist) and Ron on Hitler-mustache, err, keyboards, and writing most of the songs. Throw in some extra musicians that no one cares who are on guitars, bass and drums, and you have the early 70s incarnation of the ultra quirky little band called Sparks.

But what can you expect from this album? A vocalist that sound like no other, very high-pitched, but surprisingly listenable and charming, unlike all the awful AOR-wailers. Fairly clever lyrics that always bring a smile to my face ("You mentioned Kant and I was shocked, so shocked, back where I come from, none of the girls have such foul tongues"), some of the most amazing pop melodies to ever come out of a hamster, and great hooks in all songs. Frankly, I never was a big pop fan, but Sparks completely blew me away, and immediately became one of my favorite bands.

The lyrics tend to be amusing, tragic love stories, like "Here in Heaven", which is sung from the perspective of a guy in heaven, who had a suicide pact with his girlfriend, but "now I know why you let me take the lead." Not to mention "Equator", where poor Russel is peeved at his date for not showing up, after they'd agreed to meet on the equator. The latter also ending the original album with a very strange multi tracked a capella performance, though Island's reissue has tacked on two excellent bonus tracks as well.

This isn't the most diverse affair in the world, though all the songs have distinct personalities. But the song writing is top-notch from start to end, generally following fairly typical pop song arrangements, but with super clever and sort of complicated melodies that you're guaranteed to never have heard before, dancy rhythms and hilarious cabaret piano. I tell you, Sparks songs are like the greatest cartoons in the world! Kooky, compelling, and you can relive them over and over without them losing any of their enjoyability. I don't know of any other band that so regularly put a huge smile on my face. I suspect there's a huge love 'em or hate 'em factor at work here, but please, do your ears a favor and give Sparks a chance. I can't think of any better place to begin your journey than right here, Kimono My House. Plus, certainly you're curious what the heck that title is about, right?

Yours sincerely,
Faceless reviewing-moron.

Review by Øystein H-O

Review date: 04/2003

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Propaganda

Sparks - Propaganda ©1974 Island
1. Propaganda
2. At Home, At Work, At Play
3. Reinforcements
4. B.C.
5. Thanks But No Thanks
6. Don't Leave Me Alone With Her
7. Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth
8. Something For The Girl With Everything
9. Achoo
10. Who Don't Like Kids
11. Bon Voyage
12. Alabamy Right
13. Marry Me

I guess Sparks were on a roll while writing Kimono My House, as they quickly followed it up with Propaganda, which pretty much stayed with the same wonderful meeting of power pop and cabaret stylistics, and maintained the high quality songwriting that made Kimono so compelling.

What about differences? Obviously the songs are new, but very much so in the same style, though the band keep coming up with new wonderful melodies and ideas for their arrangements, not to mention throwing themselves into writing a ballad, namely the surprisingly beautiful "Never turn your back on mother earth". Lyrically there are less songs based on curious small stories, though the lyrics are still hilarious, yet clever stories about angst and love. There is, for instance, something very intriguing about the tense verses of "Don't leave me alone with her", which makes being seduced by a lady sound like the scariest thing in the world. That being said, I found this album slightly more difficult to get into, as some songs like "Who don't like kids" and "Achoo" weren't quite as compelling initially.

While my opinion has fluctuated between whether this or Kimono My House is the better album, I have finally ended up preferring that one slightly, but this is a perfect example of a pair of albums that go hand in hand, where you really can't own just one.

Review by Øystein H-O

Review date: 04/2003

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