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Sparks - No.1 In Heaven CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.53 | 44 ratings

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4 stars Enter Giorgio Moroder. While I like Big Beat and Introducing Sparks, there's no question that the band had stagnated some with those albums, and the brothers were looking to go in a new direction. Through various channels, the two of them managed to hook up with Moroder, whose stock as a writer and producer of slick synthesizer-dominated dance music was at a high point from his film work and from his work with such luminaries as Donna Summer. The album that resulted from this collaboration differed immensely from what the band had done before in a few ways: its 33-minute run-time contains but six tracks, four of which give partial writing credits to Moroder (with Moroder explicitly listed first in one of them); the songs consist entirely of keyboards, drums and vocals, with guitar and bass removed entirely; the songs are built around extensive cycling of a few ideas, and are clearly made to appeal to a Euro-pop/disco mindset as much as a Sparks mindset.

This turned out to be a pretty nice fit for the band, all things considered. After all, as many instances as there might have been of enjoyable guitar work on Sparks albums to this point, Sparks was ultimately a band built around keyboards, snide lyrics and great vocal melodies, and this album puts those aspects front and center. Yes, a couple more distinct ideas per track would have been nice, and there are definitely lengthy stretches where I feel like the brothers somewhat disappear behind the wall of Moroder slickness, but these are flaws that I only notice after the fact, when I feel like I've listened to an album that's a good deal shorter than it actually is (and this is a pretty short album as is). While I don't agree with the band's assessment of this as their best album (or so I've read), I can understand why they'd feel that way.

The opening "Tryouts for the Human Race" sets the album's feel in place immediately, making a song about sperm racing to be the one that unites with the egg into what's probably the most epic six minutes the band had put together yet. Everything about the song feels hot and sticky and moist, from the "dripping" synth sound that starts things off to the swirling sounds in the background to the various synth lines to the pounding beat to the vocal lines. And oh man, the idea of people dancing to lyrics like "We just want to feel the sun and be your little daughter or your son/We're just words that lovers use, words that light that automatic fuse/When that love explosion comes, my, oh my, we want to be someone" just fills me with all sorts of glee. Up next is "Academy Winning Performance," credited solely to Ron, and if it's weaker it's not by much. The thick production lets up a little bit, which is good and bad, but Russell's delivery of a put-down against a woman who's an expert at playiing different roles to ensare men is venomous enough to offset whatever drop in atmosphere there might be.

Far more venomous, though, is the following "La Dolce Vita," a decadent, lush, driving put- down of gold-digging women ("Mira, mira, guys, there's Lira in her eyes" is a typical line), full of alternation between lengthy synth solos and hellish sequenced passages over the best dancable rhythm of the album. Man, is "I catch a cold just by looking in your eyes" a great put-down. Flipping over to side 2, we come to "Beat the Clock" (without a Moroder credit), a 100% disco track musically and a 100% crackup lyrically. The chorus: "I've seen everything there is/I've done everything there is/I've met everyone but Liz/Now I've even met ol' Liz/No time for relationship/Skip the foreplay, let 'er rip/You gotta beat the clock, beat the clock/Beat the clock, beat the clock."

Up next is "My Other Voice," and while I tended to consider it lesser for a long time due to the fact that Moroder is clearly the most prominent figure in the track (he's listed first for a reason), I have to give beautiful atmosphere its due, no matter how it's produced. The first half of the track is instrumental and at first seems like it would better fit into the middle of a contemporary soundtrack than this album, but then a synth (apparently not a guitar like I thought initially) comes in and plays a rather lovely interlude over the atmospheric background, and then a vocoder pops in as a prelude to the vocal portion of the song. Russell then sings a verse of a really lovely vocal melody (with a great delivery too; the way he sings the "oooooy" of the line "With my other voice I can destroy this room" is heavenly), and then a vocoder sings the same melody with different lyrics, and overall the song makes a fine journey from confusing to uplifting in its five minutes.

Finally, there's "The Number One Song in Heaven," which consolidates all of the production effects and keyboard approaches of the rest of the album, and uses them to flesh out a 7- minute "epic" (by Sparks standards anyway) in two parts. The first half is slow and atmospheric in a way that's similar to "My Other Voice," and then the song suddenly turns into an up-tempo techno/disco number with Russell bellowing, "It's number one all over heaven/It's number one all over heaven/It's number one all over heaven/THE NUMBER ONE SONG IN ALL OF HEAVEN!" to herald the second half. The second half is full of all sorts of curiousities, from the current sequencing of sounds after the "...Gabriel plays it, let's hear him play it" verse to the lyrical twist of the song breaking out of heaven and becoming the biggest hit among the living. Wishful thinking, I suppose, but it's a great way to end the song.

No, this isn't quite the best Sparks album, but it is a great reinvention of the band that allowed them to re-emphasize some of their strengths without dwelling in the past, and I'd definitely recommend it to anybody. It also has to hold the title of "Sparks album most likely to be enjoyed by somebody who otherwise hates Sparks," based on the heavy presence of Moroder and the way that it can work as a dance-pop album and not just a collection of weird post-modern pop music (to varying degrees of weirdness). It's also the last really good Sparks album for a long time, sadly.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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