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Sparks - Hello Young Lovers CD (album) cover

HELLO YOUNG LOVERS

Sparks

 

Crossover Prog

3.96 | 12 ratings

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tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer
4 stars One interesting effect of the unexpected artistic and critical success of Lil' Beethoven was that, for the first time in a couple of decades, there was (relatively) serious anticipation for a new Sparks album, not just among hardcore fans but among a broader public ("broader public" needs to be properly and narrowly constrained of course). For me, the biggest point of curiosity was exactly how Sparks was going to approach this album in context of the success of Lil Beethoven. On the one hand, making an album that closely adhered to the LB formula would have been a disappointment; much of the charm of that album came from what a one-of-a-kind novelty (meant in a good way) it was, and a followup that came across as a clone wouldn't be able to provide the same kind of impact. On the other hand, if they didn't make an album that closely adhered to the LB formula, what else exactly were they going to do? They couldn't very well go back into the world of techno after the mantra of "Say goodbye to the beat" that had helped define the tone of LB, but the alternative, assuming they wouldn't make a clone of LB, was to find a distinct and new approach. And ... well ... what if LB had been a fluke, and they didn't have another batch of inspiration to dive into?

The resulting album was about as good as could have been hoped for. In relation to LB, I will say that Hello Young Lovers is nowhere near a LB clone, but it's also an album that I can't imagine Sparks being able to make if they hadn't made LB first. There are definitely some familiar features from LB on here: the vocals break out of singing into speaking (sometimes rhythmic, sometimes not) pretty frequently, there are many phrases that are incessantly repeated, and Ron frequently uses orchestral (and occasionally harpsichord) patches in his keyboard parts. Beyond these common principles, however, the albums are quite different; there's a lot more guitar here (it's actually woven into several songs, as opposed to being lightly drizzled in the background occasionally or used for shock value), and there's a genuine swing in a lot of the songs that hadn't been a regular part of Sparks albums since Indiscreet or maybe bits of Introducing Sparks. All told, this is a great sound for the band at this stage of its career, and it made it 100% clear that the band's techno days were over (after all, LB still had one foot in the past with its chamber-techno leanings).

My initial impression on hearing the opening "Dick Around" was that this was one of the greatest things I'd ever heard, one of the most ridiculous tracks I'd ever heard, or possibly both, and I've essentially settled on the "both" choice. The lyrics tell of the rise and fall and eventual rise of a corporate go-getter who loses his woman and job and eventually gets the woman back, while in the interim he just dicks around, but just describing the lyrics doesn't begin to describe the song. Multi-track faux-operatic rapid-fire Russell is in full-force, with a solo Russell only appearing occasionally (making it all the more noteworthy when he does), and the music careens from "How Do I Get to Carnegie Hall?" piano to metallic heavy rock to jazzy interludes in a way that seems preposterous on first listen but makes total sense thereafter (at least it did for me). There are too many interesting moments and lyrics in the song to give a full accounting, but I will say (a) that the first time the distorted guitars come in during the "Pull yourself up off the ground ..." verse is one of the great guilty pleasures in my life, (b) the lyrics in the "rise" part tell a pretty evocative story in not that many words, and (c) the chorus ("All I do now is dick around/When the sun goes up and the moon goes down/And the leaves are green and the leaves are brown/And all I do now is dick around") is just gobs of fun to sing when I listen to this. Plus, this track out-Queens Queen so heavily (after Sparks had more or less given birth to Queen) that it almost eliminates Queen's need to exist. The following "Perfume" is a rather fascinating up-tempo mix of piano, bass and grumbly guitars, with Russell matching a bunch of women (with the implication that these are all romantic interests from his past) with their choices of perfume, and him choosing to be with a girl who doesn't wear any perfume because she won't remind him of any of those women. So sue me, it's a ridiculous bit, but when Russell speaks, "The olefactory sense is the sense/That most strongly evokes memories of the past/Well, screw the past!" it cracks me up every time, and it's a fun diversion in the midst of a great song.

The next three tracks all have some clearly discernable weakness or another, but I still quite like all of them. "The Very Next Night" is slow, dreary, repetitive, and has almost no singing (Russell is talking through most of the song, apart from occasional sung background parts or snippets of melody here and there), but I feel like it deserves some notice for the way it depicts an angry drunk who won't take responsibility for his behavior. The lyrics describe a guy who keeps getting in fights over his woman, and who keeps offering pathetic excuses like "How can I let it go if I can't control myself?/How can I let it go if I cannot help myself?" in the context of repetition that strikes me every time as a depiction of double vision and not seeing the world clearly. Musically, it's mostly atmospheric piano, but there's a lovely and sad harpsichord bit in the middle, and the emergence of the grumbly guitars near the end always strongly suggest to me an especially bad episode coming on. It's not the most interesting track in the world, but I like it a lot more than I once did.

"(Baby Baby) Can I Invade Your Country?" was, unfortunately, the victim of some sort of weird censorship, the details of which I don't actually know, and the version that ultimately made the album feels neutered. The version that made it onto a B-side contains lyrics that are surprisingly political and pretty pointed in their silliness, but the album version removes those lyrics and replaces them with Russell reciting the first verse of "The Star-Spangled Banner" instead. Oh well, even without the better verses, the chorus is delightful, and the interaction between the guitars and the bouncy synths make the song fly by. Closing out the first half is "Rock, Rock, Rock," and while it struck me as really stupid on the first few listens (namely because the idea of Russell Mael singing "I will rock, rock, rock/Like a mother, like a mother, like a mother, like a mother" in a "Rhythm Thief" manner struck me as too silly even for Sparks), I came around to it once I made an effort to pay attention to the whole song. Basically, the song is about somebody whose significant other is threatening to leave him because he shows no passion in his life, and in his pleading to keep them from going he promises to cast away the soft musical passages of his life and to rock, rock, rock instead. There's a bit more to the song than just the lyrics and the big bombast of the music (for instance, I find the little vocal echoes from time to time intriguing), but those are ultimately the focus, and they're good enough for me.

The second half of the album is really strong, apart from the three-minute waltz-like throwaway of "There's No Such Thing as Aliens," which doesn't so much commit the crime of annoying me as it just makes almost no impression no matter how many times I hear it. "Metaphor" would be good if it only featured its marvelous hook of "Chicks, dig, dig, d-i-g, dig, dig metaphors," but it also features some fun call-and-response between Russell and other Russells, and the balance between keyboards and guitars perfect. Plus, "Use them wisely/Use them well/And you'll never know the hell of loneliness" is just such an insightful lyric. "Waterproof" is about somebody with a peculiar dual immunity to getting wet from rain and also from being swayed by tears, and the song's build from a playful duet between a solo Russell and Ron into an anthemic army of Russells over Ron's keyboards and guitars is a joy to behold. Plus it has those jazzy breaks of Russell semi-singing "The skies are starting to cloud up/But that won't slow me down ..." between the various iterations of the great verse and chorus melodies, and silly lines like "Completely dry/Dry as a Navajo in August ..." and "I see you crying but I'm not buying your Meryl Streep mimicry ..." scattered throughout. And "Here Kitty," while it probably would have been done in a way that would have annoyed me to death had it been written during the LB sessions, ends up as a great exercise in layering different Russell vocal lines on top of each other, and this is a track that I'd love to hear done by a college glee club or something along those lines.

The album concludes with "As I Sit Down to Play the Organ at the Notre Dame Cathedral," which is easily one of the longest and most intricate tracks in the Sparks catalogue. The song starts with about 90 seconds of different variations on the phrase "Bye bye bye my baby/Now it's time time time for me to go to/Work work Work/So you might want to work your way from here" over guitars and keyboards with odd tones, before moving into a song centered around a nagging upwards organ lick over which Russell sings lyrics devoted to a fascinating premise. Basically, the organist (a) is irritated that the bulk of his audience cares more about God than about his performance, and (b) is totally trying to use his organ playing to pick up girls, targeting those who are inside to get out of the rain more than for any religious purpose. The music is full of "Hallelujah!" chants and sung "La, la ..." parts to that upwards organ lick (the use of the repeated "I believe!" bits sandwiched around the "La, la" parts during a part of the song that is the organist getting lucky amuses me to no end) and lots of entertaining bombast that all make this into a great ending.

In the end, I can't really figure out whether I like this album more or less than LB, but the difference either way would only be the tiniest bit, so it doesn't really matter. There are definitely enough small things (I didn't really emphasize the repetition much in this review, but there are small moments where repeated bits get on my nerves) to keep this from a higher grade, but regardless of exact grade, this album firmly established the Sparks comeback as legitimate, and this makes the album an important inclusion to a Sparks collection. Or, for that matter, a rock rock rock collection.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |

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