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Sparks - Kimono My House CD (album) cover

KIMONO MY HOUSE

Sparks

 

Crossover Prog

4.01 | 41 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
5 stars The best Sparks album (by a slim margin over the debut) is also one of the most hilariously front-loaded albums I've ever heard. The first six tracks are all fantastic, albeit all cut from the same stylistic cloth, but the last four (which are also cut from the same stylistic cloth, more or less) are a clear step down, and I always finish the album with a hankering for just one more great track. Still, the highs are so high that I can justify this grade to myself without too much difficulty.

After the first two albums basically went nowhere commercially, the Halfnelson version of the group dissolved, and the Mael brothers relocated to Britain to record with what basically became a revolving door of supporting musicians. The avant-bubble gum sound of the debut and the jangle pop of Woofer were tossed aside, and in their place the band turned to the slickest, richest, most European and least American-sounding glam pop sound imaginable from the early 70s. Yes, the band mixes up the genres that are grafted into this base sound, and there's a good deal of variety in the sounds one finds from song to song (or within a given song), but make no mistake, the band has gone all in on a pretty specific kind of approach. It's one BIG ANTHEM after BIG ANTHEM, driven by Russell singing ridiculous (in a good way) lyrics set to terrific vocal melodies over rich and varied instrumental parts, and if you're into that sort of thing you could find this album a total blast. That said, I can totally understand how somebody could hate this album; it's slick in a way that has little to do with the origins of rock (white men butchering black men's music), and the fact that it often sounds so much like ABBA (whom I quite like, but I can completely understand why somebody wouldn't) means that it can't help but be a polarizing album. Personally, I love the sound when it's firing on all cylinders, but I do get worn down by it, and the lack of as many clever ideas in the last four tracks definitely doesn't help keep me from wilting near the end.

But holy hell, I love those first six tracks. "This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us" is a boring choice for a finalist in the "Best Sparks Song" competition (the choice is boring, not the song), but sometimes things are obvious for a reason. After the gradual fade-in, with Russell singing the first verse over a relatively subdued keyboard part, the song becomes absolutely bonkers and fantastic, with loud guitar riffs, B-Western (the "B" stands for "Best") gunshots, hilariously majestic organ chords, over-the-top guitar wanks, and above all Russell proclaiming bizarre "if we battle I'm going to win" imagery in his own faux-operatic manner. "Amateur Hour" is an up-beat number centered around a guitar line that doubles as the chorus melody, full of variations in tempo and intensity, and with Russell singing an amazing melody about teenagers learning to become good at sex. Best line: "Dance laugh wine dine and talk and sing / But those cannot replace what is the real thing / It's a lot like playing the violin / You cannot start off and be Yehudi Menuhin." "Falling in Love With Myself Again," as you might expect, is a love song for a narcissist, based around a bombastic waltz crossed with what's essentially circus music, and it's impossible for me to not have the chorus echo around in my head afterwards (and fortunately, I'm happy for it to be there).

It's not an easy task to pick out clear favorites out of this group of six tracks, but in giving it some thought, I find myself inclined to pick "This Town ..." and "Here in Heaven." The story behind "Here in Heaven" is great: a Romeo and Juliet pair make a suicide pact, Romeo goes through with it, Juliet backs out, Romeo is kinda sad and kinda pissed off about his situation. In terms of music, the song has long been a favorite of mine for singing in the shower, especially for the fun contrast between the tense descending melody in the verses and the chorus in an appropriate higher register ("Up here in heaven without you/Up here in heaven without you/Up here in heaven without you/It is hell knowing that your health will keep you out of here for many many years), and I've always especially admired the uneven intensity of the instrumentation under the chorus. Best line: "Juliet, I thought we had agreed/Now I know why you let me take the lead."

Up next is a track that I find myself overlooking if I'm not careful, but which is just about as great as the others. "Thank God It's Not Christmas" is a song about how fun life is for somebody on every day except for Christmas, when he has to spend the day with his wife, and the metamorphosis from the loud guitar part that starts the song, to the quieter parts of the verses, to the re-emergence of intensity at the end of each verse, and finally into the enormous chorus, is one of the best parts of an album that's full of great parts. And finally, rounding out this stretch, is "Hasta Manana Monsieur," which basically sounds exactly like ABBA from a couple of years later, except with a slightly heavier bottom. The lyrics are way more hilarious than anything you'll find on an ABBA album, though; they concern a doofus foreign exchange student who fell in love with his host but isn't even sure what language she speaks, so he tries a gibberish mix of whatever terms he can pick up. The best line of the album: "You mentioned Kant and I was shocked, so shocked/You know, where I come from, none of the girls have such foul tongues." Musically, well, I tend to like ABBA, so I like the song, and if you don't like ABBA, you'll probably hate it.

So the first six tracks are amazing, and the album seems well on its way to wedging its way into my top 50 ... but then it kinda loses me. Out of "Talent is an Asset," "Complaints" and "In My Family," I'd say that "Complaints" comes closest to being a great track, thanks to the contrast between the lilting verses and the up-tempo chorus (the middle-eight is a lot of fun too), but it still doesn't quite get to that level for me, and both "Talent" and "Family" (which tend to get mixed together in my head in such a way that I can't always remember which parts belong to which song) strike me as sounding like the album's style was left out in the sun a little too long. The closing "Equator" makes a stab at doing something significantly different, as it's a relatively slow, moody song about a guy realizing that he has no shot of finding the girl he's waiting for (after she told him she'd meet him at the equator, which should have been a clue right there that things just weren't looking his way), but the song just irritates me to no end. Well, not so much the song on the whole as any time that Russell sings the word "Equator," or, as he sings in the chorus (in a layer of echoey falsetto), "Eee-quay-tah, Eee- quay-tah" over and over. It also doesn't help that the song's coda is in much the same vein as the one to "Nothing is Sacred," with Russell singing the word "Equator" a capella and ad nauseum (with occasional interjections of "She said she'd be right there!") over the chorus. What a horrible ending to a mostly great album.

What irritates me most about the drop-off at the end of the album is that the band had some great material in reserve that could have been used instead. The version I have (on a two-fer with Big Beat) contains a pair of fantastic B-sides that would definitely have improved the album with their inclusion. "Barbecutie" is yet more bombastic glam-pop (about a man who's about to be had for dinner), this time put into rocker form and centered around a ripper of a bass riff, and "Lost and Found" is majestic pop (about somebody who finds a lost wallet and feels no remorse for having a good time with it), heavy on guitar and keyboards, which paves the way for the better material on the following Propaganda. Maybe a proper album with these would rate even higher for me (I am giving it a ***** rating, but it's a top 100 album for me, whereas it could be higher in my list), maybe it wouldn't, but just as with a hypothetical Sparks without "Biology 2," I'd have to think about it.

So ok, it's not perfect, but it's still great for the most part, and everybody should hear it at least once. For what it's worth, this album clearly had a major influence on Queen, and I don't like Queen much at all, and I still really like (almost love) this album, so anybody who likes Queen should definitely be all over this.

tarkus1980 | 5/5 |

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