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Sparks - Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.30 | 30 ratings

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Sparks is a pop-rock band with progressive tendencies, notably employing unorthodox lyrics, unusual song structures, and theatrical/operatic elements. They have a tendency to reinvent themselves periodically. This album, Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins, is from their "dance" phase, and the title highlights their penchant for wordplay.

The often happy music is synth-heavy, catchy, and buoyant. It accompanies lyrics that often are not so happy and deal with themes of jealousy, rejection, and confusion.

Tracks 1 and 11, "Gratuitous Sax" and "Senseless Violins," are throwaway songs that frame the album proper. Although they have clever bits, they are too short to warrant much notice from me. (2/5 each)

The three singles, "When Do I Get to Sing 'My Way'," "When I Kiss You (I Hear Charlie Parker Playing)," and "Now That I Own the BBC" are very good, the first and third boasting nice vocals by Russell Mael. "Now That I Own the BBC" is a silly song that boasts an undercurrent of existential dread answered by "Make of it what you will". Sadly, the background vocals don't "pop" like they do in their music video. "The Ghost of Liberace" was a pleasant surprise with a serious, thoughtful lyric and winter holiday music - a plea for the disregarded. (5, 4, 5, 5, respectively)

Several songs stand out for various reasons but don't reach the same level of excellence, in my opinion: "Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil," "Let's Go Surfing," and "Tsui Hark". "Tsui Hark" is an experimental piece, essentially an instrumental with spoken word parts accompanying it.

"Frankly Scarlett, I Don't Give a Damn" and "I Thought I Told You to Wait in the Car" both deal with feelings of rejection, but I don't care for them much. The latter song actually sounds quite menacing. (3/5)

Overall, the album rates about a 3.7/5. I give an extra 1/2 star for "Now That I Own the BBC," because this song buoyed me up considerably during the pandemic. Lines like "Now that I own the BBC, what am I supposed to do with this thing?" and "Make of it what you will" prompted me to do some serious thinking about how to handle my life during this crazy time. For that, I'm thankful.

I'm not a big fan of Sparks' "dance phase," but this album had enough good songs on it to warrant the purchase - notably "Now That I Own the BBC"! I opted for the BMG 3-CD release, which includes CD1 of the original album, CD2 of B-sides and remixes, and CD3 of previously unreleased demos and the Christi Haydon EP, which boasts some songs written for her by the Mael brothers. Some of the remixes are good, and I found some gold on CD3.

Three stars if you are looking for lots of progressiveness. The band progresses through time, but not all songs on an album are progressive. If you want substantial progressiveness, you'll need to look elsewhere, say Lil' Beethoven or more recent fare.

Four stars if you're me.

Five stars if you are a Sparks fan and want to know if you should buy the 3CD set. The 3CD set is essential - you get to hear Ron "sing" two songs on CD2! CD3 is a trove of lost treasures.

PlanetRodentia2 | 4/5 |


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