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




Crossover Prog

3.53 | 44 ratings

From, the ultimate progressive rock music website

4 stars Like the best places by the resort swimming pool, the Germans got there first: the use of electronica to change the nature of popular music was all part of the Wirtschaftswunder. Yet when electronica was turned toward more commercial ends, the Pop failed to pop. In their efforts to distance themselves from the all-pervading American influence on popular culture, market-leaders Kraftwerk showcased singing that was deliberately unemotive and lyrics that were deliberately artless. That seemed to be the way forward.

Then along comes Giorgio Moroder with even more wires than Ralf and Florian, plus the silky-voiced Donna Summer from the other side of the Atlantic. As Pop, their collaboration was closer to what yer average disco freak required, but as anything more than that, it fell short; well manufactured, but lyrically vacuous. One piece was still missing...

That piece was Ron Mael (who just happened to have a brother called Russell, who just happened to sing better than almost anyone).

So it's 1979 and all the elements are in place: the iconic producer (Signor Moroda), the generational voice (Russell Mael) and Ron Mael, one of the best lyricists who ever drew breath. Don't believe me? Try "All of the angels are sheep in the fold of their Master" from the title track. Whoever put such imagery in a pop song? (And when delivered by Russ Mael's peerless falsetto, who else could have made it send a shiver down the spine?) Or later in the same song: "Maybe you're closer to here than you imagine, maybe you're closer to here than you care to be", 'here' being heaven, that is, being dead. What is this? A pop song penned by Martin Heidegger? And later still "lyrically weak, but the music's the thing". I shall leave you to disentangle the meta-narrative of that for yourself. Or try any lyric on 'Beat the Clock'. How smart can you be, and how witty? (That could apply to any lyric on the entire album.)

Lest you think this is an album driven mainly by its lyrical content, Moroda's bubbling, sumptuous analogue textures, Keith Forsey's galloping drums, and Russell's Mael's soaring and uncanny vocalisation carry just as much heft. One can just imagine Messrs Moroda, Mael and Mael sat in the studio listening to the final mix and thinking "Got it". Compare any track from this album (its lyrics, lead vocal, sheer danceability) to any comparable track now, and Sparks win hands down (and don't forget the classic albums they had already made in other genres by this time, and with more to come).

The response to 'No.1 in Heaven' nowadays might well be "heard it all before" but back in 1979, no-one had. Smart, danceable electronica that was neither post-funk nor post-Krautrock did not exist. Let's be honest, smart, danceable electronica barely exists at all, period. The influence of this album has been lasting and profound, and it is one more testament to a duo who resurrected themselves (usually to great acclaim) at least half a dozen times. This is their most surprising resurrection, and the most surprising thing of all is that it really, really works.

trout.phosphor | 4/5 |


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