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Sparks - Whomp That Sucker CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.27 | 20 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars In a certain sense, Sparks' destiny had always been to become an 80s synth pop novelty band. After all, a great deal of the praise that's so often given to the band's debut album has revolved around the way the band had been able flash so many recognizably 80s elements despite the fact that it was from the early 70s, and the band's lyrics had certainly often walked along the boundary separating "clever" and "novelty." The thing is, the reason the band's "proto-80s" music had been so interesting was that there was a great deal of charm in hearing them attempt to rig up music from a projected future era using the raw materials of the present day, the same way there's charm in looking at a Da Vinci sketch for an early version of an airplane or something like that. On this album, the band takes few chances stylistically; they've returned to a standard rock lineup (they brought in a band called Bates Motel to fill out the guitar/bass/drums slots, and this lineup would stay in for the next four as well), and the music is basically conventional pop-rock with a strong keyboard presence, with Russell singing goofy lyrics about all sorts of odd scenarios. It's definitely more enjoyable (to my ears) than Terminal Jive, and the tracks don't generally grate on my ears (though "That's Not Nastassia" comes awfully close, especially in the coda, which hearkens back to the codas of "Nothing is Sacred," "Equator" and "Achoo"), but there's definitely a lack of edge to the album that keeps me from wanting to rate it higher. As for the lyrics, they're still clever and pretty interesting, but they're clever without really being witty or subversive, and this only amplifies the "novelty" feel of the album.

Mind you, I still like most of the songs, novelty synth pop or not. "Tips for Teens" has a Propaganda-lite feel to it courtesy of the thick layerings of Russell falsetto and the big chorus, and the lyrics, which seem to center around a really old and senile woman trying to give advice to a teenage girl, are a crack-up. "Funny Face" is an interesting tale of a man who is famous for his good looks but doesn't like the fact that people assume he's a dullard, and who finally achieves happiness after he jumps off a bridge and mangles his face up (so that people will finally start paying attention to him and not his looks). So far so good.

After this point, there are a lot of decent lyrics, and a lot of moments of pleasant enjoyment, but not a lot of tracks where it feels like something very interesting is happening. "Where's My Girl" starts off in a way that makes me want to immediately skip ahead to the next track, but it ends up tapping into the same Propaganda-lite vein that benefited "Tips for Teens," so I end up enjoying it quite a bit. The closing "Wacky Women" is noisy and spastic in a way that makes it completely bonkers (by the standards of the album), and it's a standout. Beyond that, though, I'm left with tracks like "Don't Shoot Me," where I'm amused by the lyrics (the song starts from the perspectives of soon-to-be-shot rhinos and hippos, then turns to the rhino and hippo hunter, who comes home and shoots somebody who's in the house with his wife) but not especially interested in the music, and other tracks, where I could take or leave the lyrics. There's nothing especially wrong with "Upstairs," "I Married a Martian," (where Russell sometimes sings the chorus in a way that's oddly reminiscient of a contemporary Mick Jagger falsetto), "The Willys" (a bit of a 50s throwback) or "Suzie Safety," but they don't make a strong impact on me either.

Still, bands have had far worse transitions into the 80s, and at worst this album is a pleasant throwaway. The band is clearly comfortable in this new approach (maybe a little too comfortable; the philosophy expressed in "Suzie Safety" could be said to permeate through the whole album), and if they don't stretch themselves much then they don't really fail either. Get it if you're curious.

tarkus1980 | 3/5 |


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