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Sparks - A Woofer In Tweeter's Clothing CD (album) cover

A WOOFER IN TWEETER'S CLOTHING

Sparks

Crossover Prog


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tarkus1980
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars This is a pretty good album, and a bit better than I initially thought it was, but it's definitely a sophomore slump. After the debut sold poorly and Todd Rundgren was ousted as producer, the band made the decision to try and make its sound more palatable to a mainstream audience, and the results were predictably mixed. While some of the album shows the band proudly flying its freak flag high, there's also a clear attempt to wedge the band's style into a power pop format, with a great deal more emphasis on Earle Mankey's guitars, and this isn't for the best. This shift in direction and the corresponding consequences immediately become clear in "Girl from Germany," which opens the album. In my review of Sparks, I essentially said that, in another context, "Wonder Girl" would have had its chorus and harmonies extracted and put into a more normal song. Well, "Girl from Germany" demonstrates the potential results, for good and bad; the vocal melody and chorus are decent, and the lyrics are interesting (about the difficulties of dealing with people who still had prejudice against Germans, despite their beautiful women and fine cuisine), but the arrangement is a little bland and certainly nowhere near as fun or eccentric as the one for "Wonder Girl."

Much of the rest of the album also shows this strong focus on guitar pop, and overall the songs are ok but not spectacular. After starting with a fun cabaret-style interlude, "Beaver O'Lindy" sees loud fast drums burst on the scene, and the song turns into a decent fast rocker with a chorus that involves yelling the title one letter at a time. "Do Re Mi" (yup, a cover of that song) does the transition from keyboard-based ballad to speedy rave-up rocker much better, and it's easy to see why it was such a stage favorite. "Underground" (written by Earle Mankey) is a pretty catchy pop-rocker (and way more enjoyable than "Biology 2" could ever be), with some interesting twists, but again, it doesn't really betray much in the way of genius. "Whippings and Apologies" (coming immediately out of the great 45-second music- hall piece "Batteries Not Included") is great though, featuring a nice riff and a real frenzy in the guitars at times, with a nice false end before the song rides the groove for another 90 seconds.

The other tracks are more in line with the kind of band depicted on the debut, but these are uneven as well (the best track in this category is definitely the aforementioned "Batteries Not Included"). "Nothing is Sacred" is a bizarre lumbering number with a curious piano riff in the chorus, and for me it just kind of meanders by until the end (there are a couple of small departures from the main song that I find inspiring, though), when Russell's incessant "NOTHING IS SACRED ANY MORE, NO NO NOTHING IS SACRED ANY MORE ..." falsetto scream-sings take over and the song really gets on my nerves. "Here Comes Bob" is another fun music-hall number, bolstered by a small playful string ensemble, about a guy who meets people by running his car into theirs (hitting buses and limos if he wants to meet a lot of people at once), and while my first listens to the song made me wonder why I was wasting my life in such a way, I've come to enjoy it plenty. "Moon Over Kentucky" is another grower, full of dark atmosphere in the piano and guitars, and I find myself especially drawn to (a) the way Russell places the emphasis on the syllables in the chorus, and (b) the organ chordings at the end (the band could have easily chosen to just fade out over the final Russell wailings over the piano/guitar vamp, but I like that they didn't), which provide a very satisfactory conclusion. The rest of the album is a little forgettable, though; "Angus Desire" is a pleasant shuffle that leaves little impression on me, and "The Louvre" is just a decent atmosphere with the lyrics sung once in French and once in English because they couldn't decide which version to include, so they decided to just throw on both.

A lot of people regard this as the equal or even the superior to the debut, but obviously I can't even remotely get behind that; it's just nowhere near as interesting. Maybe it's more refined and more mature in some ways, but this kind of refinement and maturity is totally counter- productive. I should note that my CD version has both this and the debut on the same disc, and I don't know about the availability or cost of stand-alone versions of this, so it may well be that buying both albums together is the best way to go, but as a single disc, I would definitely wait on buying this until I'd heard a few other Sparks albums.

PS: There is a curious mistake in the splitting of the tracks on my version, and I suspect that many who own this album have the same version. The track marked "Batteries Not Included," which actually lasts 45 seconds or so, ends up containing this song plus the bulk of "Whippings and Apologies," and the track marked "Whippings and Apologies" only contains the last 90 seconds after the false ending. Since "Batteries" immediately segues into "Whippings" without a clear division, my solution for mp3 listening was to rip the two tracks together into a single track, which eliminates any annoyances that may come from this.

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Posted Thursday, February 13, 2014 | Review Permalink

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