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SPARKS

Crossover Prog • United States


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Sparks biography
Formed in 1972 in Los Angeles, USA - Still active as of 2017

L.A brothers Ron (keyboards) and Russell (vocals) Mael formed their first band Halfnelson in 1970 along with the other brothers, Earle Mankey (guitar) and Jim Mankey (bass). Harley Feinstein completed the quintet on drums. It was at this time Todd Rundgren honed in on them and convinced them to change their name to the SPARKS and in 1971, under a new label, their self titled debut was released.

Their brand of sound quickley developed a cult following especially in the UK, which prompted the Mael brothers crossing the Atlantic and setting up base there. The Mankey brothers went on to do other things, not least one of them joining Concrete Blonde. So with new band members to compliment the Mael brothers the SPARKS released their warmly received "Kimono My House" and later that same year another studio release called "Propoganda". The Mael brothers never ones to rest on their laurels returned to the USA after the not so successful 1975 release, "Indiscreet". Their glamorous art rock, crossover, new wave cocktail mix of sound even ventured into disco territory in the late 70's/early 80's. They remained prolific up to 1988's "Interior Design" before disappearing off the radar for a while until 1994 when more studio releases followed.

Their most recent release is 2009's "The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman", an eccentric and bizaar album, not dissimilar to a symphonic rock opera. The SPARKS always remained uncompromising and original to their sound, the proof of which is that their cult following still remains to this day. Visit their website also for a great insight to their history.

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SPARKS discography


Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help Progarchives.com to complete the discography and add albums

SPARKS top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.24 | 41 ratings
Halfnelson [Aka: Sparks]
1971
3.27 | 36 ratings
A Woofer In Tweeter's Clothing
1973
4.10 | 89 ratings
Kimono My House
1974
4.11 | 71 ratings
Propaganda
1974
3.18 | 51 ratings
Indiscreet
1975
3.52 | 35 ratings
Big Beat
1976
3.25 | 27 ratings
Introducing Sparks
1977
3.50 | 38 ratings
No.1 In Heaven
1979
2.55 | 22 ratings
Terminal Jive
1980
3.25 | 24 ratings
Whomp That Sucker
1981
3.00 | 23 ratings
Angst In My Pants
1982
2.84 | 19 ratings
In Outer Space
1983
1.48 | 14 ratings
Pulling Rabbits Out Of A Hat
1984
2.13 | 13 ratings
Music That You Can Dance To
1986
1.39 | 12 ratings
Interior Design [Aka: Just Got Back From Heaven]
1988
3.23 | 22 ratings
Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins
1994
2.88 | 13 ratings
Balls
2000
4.23 | 52 ratings
Lil' Beethoven
2002
4.00 | 35 ratings
Hello Young Lovers
2006
3.54 | 25 ratings
Exotic Creatures Of The Deep
2008
3.09 | 15 ratings
The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman
2009
3.40 | 10 ratings
Franz Ferdinand & Sparks: FFS
2015
3.84 | 46 ratings
Hippopotamus
2017
4.58 | 10 ratings
A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip
2020

SPARKS Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

2.96 | 4 ratings
Two Hands, One Mouth: Live in Europe
2013

SPARKS Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

SPARKS Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.03 | 10 ratings
Plagiarism
1997
2.50 | 2 ratings
The Best of Sparks
2003

SPARKS Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.30 | 5 ratings
This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us
1974
3.74 | 4 ratings
Dick Around
2006

SPARKS Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip by SPARKS album cover Studio Album, 2020
4.58 | 10 ratings

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A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip
Sparks Crossover Prog

Review by Pietro Otello Romano

5 stars Like a good wine Sparks seem to improve with aging.

Left behind the synthpop sound, the Mael bros have given us a number of gems from the turn of the new millennium. They don't burn quite as obviously bright, and "A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip" is stand out as one of the brightest of their entire production. A solid album, well balanced, elegant and catchy enough since the first listening.

Highlight of the album:

***** Star: the well-paced and enthralling open "All That". The almost punkish "I'am toast". The magnificent "Pacific Standard Time" that, driven by an infectious piano tune, surprisingly romantic, (am I wrong or it's the first romantic songs by Sparks ever?), is my personal favorite of the album. The atmospheric. almost dramatic, piano based "One for the Ages". The Symphonic and ironical "Please Don't Fuck Up My World"

**** Star: "Stravinsky's Only Hit" - "Left Out in the Cold" - "The Existential Threat" - "Nothing Travels Faster Than the Speed of Light"

Overall a 4.5 Stars rounded to 5 for the talent of the band to keep fresh and high the level of their works after almost half century on the music biz!

 This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us by SPARKS album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1974
3.30 | 5 ratings

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This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us
Sparks Crossover Prog

Review by TenYearsAfter

4 stars What a discovery today, The Sparks on Prog Archives, I stumbled upon it while checking new entries on this website, but I am far from shocked, and I don't feel the need to be cynical. Because I consider The Sparks as an unique band with progressive tendencies (Art-rock seems to fit the most), and I know a lot of friends who are still very much into The Sparks, and witnessed one of their recents gigs.

This Town Ain't Big Enough is an exciting song that delivers the trademark Russell Meal powerful high-pitched vocals. But I also love the dynamics, the fiery rock guitar and the delicate keyboard work. After watching it on the legendary Dutch Toppop I rushed to the nearest record store and bought it, and I still like to wacth it on YouTube. It's a real gem, in an era that Art-rock blossemed, from Queen with Killer Queen to 10CC with Silly Love.

 No.1 In Heaven by SPARKS album cover Studio Album, 1979
3.50 | 38 ratings

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No.1 In Heaven
Sparks Crossover Prog

Review by patrickq
Prog Reviewer

3 stars If N 1 in Heaven has a familiar ring to it, you can probably blame the Father of Disco, Georgio Moroder, who produced the album. Apparently, Moroder and his team went directly from working on this album to producing yet another Donna Summer album, in this case the multi-platinum Bad Girls. (N 1 in Heaven was released in March 1979 and Bad Girls In April). The clearest sign of Moroder's hand is the beat; his teamwork with drummer Keith Forsey is one of the most consistent aspects of N 1 in Heaven, as it had been for Summer's prior four albums. But Summer and Sparks were heading in opposite directions.

To oversimplify things a bit, in 1979, Donna Summer shifted from European disco toward pop/rock, while the LA band Sparks transitioned (rather abruptly) from pop/rock to European disco. Summer's move made more sense commercially, as disco was on its way out in the US; she had five top-five US pop songs in 1979, including three number-one singles, and she managed to have eight more top-forty hits* across the 1980s?pretty fortunate for a disco artist. But Moroder's brand of "Italo Disco" remained popular in Europe; N 1 in Heaven spawned a couple of U.K. hits. A few years later, Sparks finally placed two singles on the Billboard Hot 100, hitting #60 in 1982 and #49 in 1983.

This group is sometimes considered progressive, N 1 in Heaven is synthesizer-based disco; there's no way it would be mistaken for rock music, never mind progressive rock. But it could easily be mistaken for an album recorded in 1982, not 1978, and that four-year span was a lifetime in pop music; although the term is probably way overused, this album was genuinely "ahead of its time."

On top of that, it's a pretty good album. As was also typical of Donna Summer albums, the songs are extended, intended for club play. "Beat the Clock" in particular seems to have been written specifically as a dance songs, but most of N 1 in Heaven is comprised of pop songs arranged in 1980s Italo-Disco style. Interestingly, the beat of "My Other Voice" is nearly the same as Summer's "Hot Stuff," her first rock-oriented single - - but that's as far as the comparison goes. In terms of composition, the lyrics are very good, and music is fine, although there are only a handful of strong melodies across the album.

The best songs here are "La Dolce Vita" and "the Number One Song in Heaven," the two substantial hits from the album. Of the remaining four songs, only "My Other Voice" feels like filler material. However, prior to N 1 in Heaven, Sparks had never released an album with fewer than nine songs. If, rather than stretching the songs here, they had continued that trend, there might've been much more filler.

Overall, N 1 in Heaven is a good proto-new-wave dance album. If you're into that kind of stuff, and especially if you also appreciate incisive lyrics, give this one a spin.

====

*Her cover of Jon & Vangelis's "State of Independence" just missed, hitting #41 in 1982.

 Halfnelson [Aka: Sparks] by SPARKS album cover Studio Album, 1971
4.24 | 41 ratings

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Halfnelson [Aka: Sparks]
Sparks Crossover Prog

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams

5 stars The first new wave album? Maybe not quite but a prototype of what was to come.

The creative and spastic team of brothers Ron and Russell Mael, better known as SPARKS has become notorious for being one of the quirkiest progressive art pop zolo glam rock artists in the last half century and are still going strong to this day. This Los Angeles duo decided to create their first band all the way back in 1968 when they teamed up under the name HALFNELSON. Having rejected the hippie folk and rock that was en vogue in the late 60s California scene, Ron on keyboards and Russell as vocalist would turn many a head when they performed completely off-kilter art pop that exhibited sophisticated Baroque pop, intelligently designed lyrics and quirky left field constructs that were made all the more strange by the duo's unique theatrical stage presence that found Russell displaying hyperactive performances with a distinctly idiosyncratic falsetto while Ron playing keys in a detached and stoic manner.

While distancing themselves from their LA contemporaries, the duo looked eastward towards the British scene where they found more inspiration from disparate acts such as The Who, The Kinks, The Move and Pink Floyd. It didn't take long after their formation in 1968 that they caught the attention of Todd Rundgren who immediately signed them to his Bearsville label. While the duo would be the focal point of attention, the band was rounded off with Earle Manley on guitar and his brother James on bass and released the eponymously titled debut HALFNELSON in 1971 to little fanfare. After a little changing things up which included the band name becoming SPARKS and a new album cover, the HALFNELSON debut become the first self-titled SPARKS album when re-released in 1972 which proved to be the magic bullet. The same album retitled as SPARKS ushered in the band's first minor hit in the form of "Wonder Girl."

While still HALFNELSON, Ron and Russell were well ahead of their time as they crafted a distinct sound that would blend glam rock, progressive art pop and a hyper spastic feel that would eventually become known as zolo. This amalgamation of ideas would become the staple for bands like Roxy Music, Split Enz, XTC, Devo and countless others as the 70s ceded into the 80s. The HALFNELSON / SPARKS debut is a powerhouse of ideas that range from the prognosticating "Fa La Fa Lee" which sounds a lot like the synthpop that would emerge at the end of the decade and a major ingredient of the new wave that swept the late 70s and early 80s, to the bizarre early indie pop weirdness of "Biology 2" which sounds a lot like the brain melting helium voiced weirdness that Ween would capture and bring to the limelight in the 90s. Tracks like "Roger" are quirky little numbers that mix a heavy classical piano influence with bubblegum pop hooks but corrupt them into a crazed mix of time signature liberties that jitter around the main beat.

"High C" which sounds like a David Bowie on acid type of track displays a basic glam rock groove that intertwines country slide guitar, new wave type of synthpop hooks and the ultimate vocal weirdness that displays Russell's eccentric abilities that make Freddie Mercury sound like an amateur as he whizzes up and down the scale. "Simple Ballet" shows an explorative show tune sort of proclivity while "Slowboat" proves that the duo aren't just about weirdness but that they can also write beautiful ballads that don't resort to extremes yet even here they think out of the box with a Baroque piano solo and ends with an energetic guitar performance. "Saccharin And The War" is the most rockin' and also most progressive track on the album as it ramps up the guitar heft and adds some time sig deviations as Russell wails away sounding like he's a cross between the singers of Gnidrolog and Pavlov's Dog. "(No More) Mr. Nice Guys" sounds somewhat like the soundtrack to the Rocky Horror Picture Show" which wouldn't come out until 1975.

The first SPARKS album which began as a HALFNELSON album is a true freak of nature that must've come as a complete shock to anyone who would've experienced it at the time. It was so different than virtually anything else that existed and an obvious influence for much of the glam rock and indie pop of the future. While clearly more pop than rock, SPARKS were about as creatively experimental as you could get back in the early 70s within that world. This is a brilliant album as it shows the two brothers pretty much doing things exactly as they wanted and the album is all the better for it. While SPARKS wouldn't hit it big until their third album "Kimono In The House" which would become an international hit after they relocated to England, their first two albums are excellent slices of quirky, slightly progressive pop as well with the eponymous debut being the better of the two. While these early albums are precursors of the new wave movement that emerged towards the end of the decade in which SPARKS would be a key player in as well, on the first album it's obvious that they were the progenitors of the quirky zolo art pop turned new wave branch of the post-punk era as well. Not bad guys.

 Hippopotamus by SPARKS album cover Studio Album, 2017
3.84 | 46 ratings

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Hippopotamus
Sparks Crossover Prog

Review by omphaloskepsis

5 stars 90/100 Wow! Hippopotamus is my favorite Sparks album ever! Blindsided by Sparks' contagious catchy cabaret, Hippopotamus sideswiped me. Zee Mael brothers have outdone themselves. Decades haven't dulled the knife sharp sheen off the Mael's, instead Father Time honed, polished and focused the Mael Brother's song craft skills.

Top shelf, eclectic, humorous lyrics abound, Russell Mael waxes poetic on advantages of the ever popular go-to "Missionary Position" and his Spartan "Scandinavian" furniture collection. The sarcastic "Unaware" and "I Wish You Were Fun" poke fun at the fairer sex. You got to grin at Russell warbling, " So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside From That, How Was The Play?" Literary allusions and history lessons like Macbeth and Edith Piaf literally litter the hysterical lyrical landscape of Hippopotamus.

" Russell Mael, myself and my husband sing along and share knowing smiles listening to Sparks' wit, coupled with resplendent, gorgeous piano riffing of Ron Mael. Unlike other older rock vocalists, Russell's vocals are clean and operatic as ever. His voice is extremely unusual yet catchy. Somehow Sparks break new ground while staying seductively melodic. The Maels share a P.O. box on Memory Lane. Every song is memorable.

Ironically, I found title track Hippopotamus the weakest song, still you got to salute Ron and Russell for rhyming abacus, Hieronymus Bosch , anonymous, and Titus Andronicus with Hippopotamus instead of falling into the clich "Rhinoceros rhyme trap"!

Hippopotamus, though an acquired taste, puts the POP back in Hippopotamus and equals or supasses Sparks 70's classics "Kimono my House" and "Propaganda". For fans of superior song craft, marvelous piano runs, operatic Germanic vocals, Beardfish and Zappa lyrical satire!

 No.1 In Heaven by SPARKS album cover Studio Album, 1979
3.50 | 38 ratings

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No.1 In Heaven
Sparks Crossover Prog

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars After their glam rock-influenced style as pioneered on Kimono My House an its followups stopped paying the bills, Sparks shifted gear to synthpop territory. The transition is actually quite successful: they brought in Giorgio Moroder to help out at the production desk, which was a good start, and since their music had always focused a lot on Ron Mael's keyboards a shift to more modern electronic sounds seemed entirely natural. Russell's vocal style also takes well to the synthpop format, and their ornate writing style adds a somewhat progressive spin to the compositions. Yes, it's cheesy, but "Tryouts For the Human Race" and the like are hardly simplistic disco numbers.
 This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us by SPARKS album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1974
3.30 | 5 ratings

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This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us
Sparks Crossover Prog

Review by Matti
Prog Reviewer

3 stars 'This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us' is easily the best known song by this quirky art-pop group led by the eccentric Mael brothers from Los Angeles. I don't know if it can be described as prog, at least in the usual sense, but it makes most music of their British contemporaries QUEEN sound lame in comparison, and a lot of 10CC as well. In some way they sounded like being many years ahead of their time. This fast, frenzy, highly strung song with theatrically high vocals is like a turkish pepper: it leaves no one cold but doesn't necessarily make you want more. An interesting detail about the writing of this song is that originally it was thought to include (for the chorus) various clichs familiar from B movies, but "this town ain't big enough for both of us" won the honour alone.

'Barbecutie' on the single's B side is an average Sparks song, reminding a little of the early ROXY MUSIC (e.g. 'Virginia Plain') but is more straight forward [glam] rock. Nothing I would want to hear many times. I must say Sparks have never been among my listenings. When I was a child the album covers of Kimono My House and especially Propaganda (with the tied couple seated on a boat) made a strong impression on me, and 'This Town...' still sounds powerful and unique whenever I happen to hear it. Once I borrowed a compilation of this band but I didn't much like the music in general. So if there's a band that I want to remember by just one particular song, it's this one.

 Two Hands, One Mouth: Live in Europe by SPARKS album cover Live, 2013
2.96 | 4 ratings

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Two Hands, One Mouth: Live in Europe
Sparks Crossover Prog

Review by tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Somehow, despite having regularly recorded albums for over 40 years, Sparks didn't release any live albums before 2013. If the brothers had felt really ballsy, their first live release would have been a 21-disc boxset of the Sparks Spectacular from 2008, which would also have freed them from ever considering another live album thereafter. If they'd wanted to go a more conventional route, they could have released a comprehensive 2-CD live album, recorded with a full band, which could have provided 2 hours or so of career- spanning live entertainment. Well, the brothers decided to go a route that's unusual but also a little underwhelming. This is a 2-CD live album, but the second disc is only about 20 minutes long (containing the encore from the show), and the lineup is just Ron playing keyboards and Russell singing, with no support (hence the name of the album).

This set is worth hearing and is basically enjoyable, but it's underwhelming on the whole. I would say there are two significant highlights that stand out from the rest. The first is a rendition of "Singing in the Shower," a track that originated in a post-Interior Design collaboration with Les Rita Mitsouko and had an absolutely horrendous arrangement but sounds quite nice when given a sparser music hall treatment. The second is the version of "The Number Song in Heaven" that they perform in the encore, focusing on the first half of the song and giving Russell's incredibly well-preserved 64-year-old falsetto a chance to shine. Plus, the moment when Ron switches from the angelic choir keyboard parts into the more rhythmic sequenced sounds is a great and memorable one.

Aside from these performances, though, the lack of a full band ends up forcing pretty much all of the set into a fairly limited sonic space, and most of the renditions on here end up as amusing trifles. The setlist is heavy on albums that could provide material for such an approach, of course; Propaganda contributes 4 tracks (the title track, "At Home, At Work, At Play," "Something for the Girl With Everything," "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth"), Indiscreet ("Hospitality on Parade," "Under the Table With Her"), No. 1 in Heaven ("The Number One Song in Heaven", "Beat the Clock") and Hello Young Lovers ("Metaphor," a sadly shortened "Dick Around") 2 a piece , Lil' Beethoven 3 ("My Baby's Taking Me Home," "The Rhythm Thief," "Suburban Homeboy"), and there are scattered tracks from here and there. Kimono only has the obligatory "This Town" nod (and boy it sounds odd without guitar), the 80s are only acknowledged with "Singing in the Shower" and "Sherlock Holmes," Exotic Creatures only has "Good Morning" to represent it, and of course there's "When Do I Get to Sing My Way?" to close off the main set. There's also a really dumb rarity called "The Wedding of Jacqueline Kennedy to Russell Mael" (in which Russell pretends to get married to Jacqueline Kennedy and Ron plays the Wedding March), a short medley of material from The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, and a totally forgettable new song at the end in the title track. Oh, and there's a fun keyboard medley at the beginning called "Sparks Overture," where some songs that made the album are joined by others that were probably performed but not recorded ("I Married Myself" and "Looks, Looks, Looks" are recognizable in addition to "Good Morning," "When Do I Get to Sing My Way," "This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us," "Dick Around," "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth," "Something for the Girl With Everything" and "Suburban Homeboy"). Many of these tracks sound just fine, but there's little here that I'd go out of my way to hear in place of the corresponding original, and that's something I need to rate a live album highly.

Honestly, if this ends up as the only live album they ever put out, I'll find myself wishing that they'd never bothered; it would have been better to have the gaping "what-if" than to answer it with a relative throwaway. Anybody who fancies themselves as a hardcore fan should seek this out, and it's worth a few listens, but a casual fan could do well to stay away.

 The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman by SPARKS album cover Studio Album, 2009
3.09 | 15 ratings

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The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman
Sparks Crossover Prog

Review by tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Sometimes there's something to be said for staying in your lane. Through assorted means, the brothers received a commission to write a Sweden-related radio musical for Swedish national radio, and the result was this fictional tale involving the famous movie director Ingmar Bergman (played by Jonas Malmsj). The story, more or less, is as follows: soon after winning an award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, Ingmar feels the need to go watch an American action movie, despite the fact that he hates escapist art. He comes out of the movie theater and is surprised to find himself in Hollywood, with a limo waiting for him. He's taken to a meeting with various Hollywood studio executives, who try to persuade him to stay and make films there, despite the fact he hates everything about Hollywood and all that it stands for. Initially, he feels torn; he doesn't want to sell out, but the ability to have real financing for his movies seems like too good of a deal to pass on. After starting to settle into the realities of Hollywood life, including actresses who don't respect him and people constantly asking for his autograph, he decides he needs to get away, even though Sweden may or may not exist in this reality. As he's making his way on foot from his hotel, he realizes that he's being chased by police and helicopters, bringing him into the horrible irony of being an actor in a bad, big-budget Hollywood action film. He comes to the seashore, prays for help, meets the angel of Greta Garbo, goes to a movie with her, leaves the movie and finds himself back in Sweden. Fin.

I suppose it should be considered a success that this project isn't a complete disaster. There are a handful of really memorable and interesting bits, even if a lot of the album consists of "transitional" material. "Why Do You Take That Tone With Me?" features a great vocal from opera singer Rebecca Sjwall, depicting an angry Hollywood starlet who doesn't like the condescension that Bergman oozes with every word and action on the set, and there's a good deal of dramatic heft in it. "Limo Driver (Welcome to Hollywood)" offers a chance to hear Ron sing for the first time (spoiler alert: it's a good thing Russell usually sings), but it makes for a fun ditty, and the following "Mr. Bergman, How Are You?" does an entertaining job of depicting the attempts of the Hollywood executives to try and woo Bergman over. "The Studio Commissary" is a fun chance to namecheck a bunch of famous directors getting lunch over a vaudeville tune, "Autograph Hounds" has great interplay between the disorienting vocals and some intense synths, "Oh My God" (where Bergman asks for deliverance) is a decent emotional climax, and "Garbo Sings" (where Greta Garbo brings deliverance) is a great reprise of themes from earlier. Oh, and I guess that "He's Home" makes for a fitting, joyful ending.

For all of the good that this album provides, though, there are some fundamental flaws that are hard to escape. One of these is that, while we're clearly supposed to empathize with Bergman as he seeks refuge from the awfulness that is Hollywood, it's hard to tell exactly how he's been wronged here (well, aside from the weird teleportation kidnapping that kicks off the whole thing). Bergman really comes across as a prick, especially when he's on set (this sequence may or may not be in his mind, but then again the whole album may or may not be in his mind), and quite honestly I find myself siding with the Hollywood Studio Chief when he sings, "We've offered him the moon/Rejected us like goons/And all the while unfazed, his eyes were dull and glazed/But all that's in the past./He really has some gall/To turn us down at all/He really has some gall to turn us down at all/Is anyone that great?" near the end. If Ron and Russell meant for the listener to sympathize completely with Bergman, they didn't really succeed.

A second major problem comes from the baffling decision to make the English-language version available only as a digital download, with all 64 minutes contained within a single track. The provided rationale for this was essentially that they wanted people to have to listen to this as a whole, to treat it as a serious piece of art rather than a collection of individual tracks, but I find this explanation unsatisfying simply because musicals generally are broken up into individual tracks. This is a rare instance of the group taking itself much too seriously, and it's a little off-putting.

Despite these issues, though, I'd have to say that this is a decent album on the whole, and one that any serious Sparks fan should listen to two or three times. Yes, when Bergman solemnly intones near the end, "Thank you for listening to my story. You may be relieved to know the story is soon coming to an end" I find myself thinking "Damn straight," but it's a still very competent and well-crafted piece of work on the whole. I can't imagine wanting to listen to it more than two or three more times in my life, but I'm glad I listened to it as many times as I did.

 Exotic Creatures Of The Deep by SPARKS album cover Studio Album, 2008
3.54 | 25 ratings

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Exotic Creatures Of The Deep
Sparks Crossover Prog

Review by tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer

4 stars The band's marketing strategy for promoting the release of this album was pretty brilliant as far as these things go. Around the time the band formally released the album, the band played a three week series of concerts in which the band played its albums from start to finish (one album per night, in chronological order), with a B-side or rarity as the encore, commencing in the grand live unveiling of Exotic (which by this point had been out for about three weeks) on the 21st night. The Sparks Spectacular, as of 2014, is not available in any form other than scattered Youtube videos, and it's not clear that it will ever be released, but if they ever got around to cleaning these tracks up for release I'd absolutely buy it and listen to the whole thing (even the lesser albums).

As often happens with cases where the promotional campaign is particularly inspired, the actual product being promoted is a slight letdown, even if it's got a lot of good material and is quite good on the whole. The biggest change with this album from the previous ones is that the remaining Lil' Beethoven elements from Hello Young Lovers are virtually wiped away; there's a lot of repetition in the vocal parts, but this repetition is much more conventional than on LB or some of the parts of HYL, and the instrumentation, while still based primarily in Ron's keyboards, rarely attempts the faux- orchestral sounds of yore. For all of the various eccentricities of this album, this is definitely a very normal album in comparison to what they'd done lately; Russell spends most of his time doing actual singing of actual vocal melodies, while Ron uses a variety of keyboard sounds that mostly sound pretty great. This isn't a good thing or a bad thing in and of itself, but I do suspect that the slightly higher concentration than usual of clearly second-rate material has at least some correlation to the lack of a unifying gimmick for the album. Again, it's a really good album on the whole, but it's definitely a clear step down from LB and HYL.

The best demonstration of the issues this album often has is "Strange Animal," which has some decent ideas that feel more like they were superglued to each other than made into a coherent song, and it makes for a pretty problematic 5:45. There are also a couple of tracks tucked near the end that, if they don't outright suck, are knocking on the door pretty hard. "The Director Never Yelled Cut" prominently features one of the least pleasant loops of Ron keyboards this side of "Let's Get Funky," and the verse melody is so oddly mechanical that I'm not sure why they ultimately decided it was a good idea to include it on the album. "Photoshop" sounds like a potential classic for about 15 seconds, but the combination of a great piano part and a tense Russell delivery ends up largely being wasted on a song where the central hook is the dumb chorus of "Photoshop me out of your life." I get that Ron was trying to update his "odd takes on dealing with exes" for the late 2000s, but this really ends up sounding like a stale variation of better attempts at this kind of writing.

The rest of the album is really good, though, and the highs are high enough to mostly overcome the low points. The first half starts and ends with "Intro" and "Intro Reprise," respectively, and they're a delightful bit of Russell harmonizing with himself around the great phrase, "I don't care if you love me, just so you like me" and wordless "aaah" sounds. Immediately following "Intro" comes "Good Morning," an amusing up-tempo song with Russell falsetto-singing about waking up with a woman that's way out his league and not understanding how this is possible, while Ron lays down a fantastic keyboard pattern on (electric?) piano and synths. The lyrics are full of silly lines, such as "While I fix you breakfast/I hope it's just your laugh that is infectious" or "Hey, where you going? Does dasvedonya really mean good morning?" and the alternation between the main groove and the "Thank you God for something rare as this ..." parts is quite nice. I also really dig the false ending.

"I Can't Believe That You Would Fall For All the Crap in This Song" and "Let the Monkey Drive" each boast their own great keyboard grooves with great vocal parts on top, with the former boasting a slower, more intense one and the latter boasting a quicker, snappier one. "I Can't Believe ..." ends up using a bunch of different synth tones, and there's a surprising amount of complexity in the details of what seems like a pretty simple track on first listen. "Let the Monkey Drive" is a rare instance of breaking out an orchestral patch (tucking it into the background mostly, but it's there), but the main attraction of the song is definitely the groove in the parts where the monkey is driving the car, and you'd better believe that I find myself doing response vocals to Russell's parts if nobody else is around.

The second half does have the surprising low points mentioned earlier, but it also has a bunch of really delightful material. "I've Never Been High" is a majestic anthemic ballad from its first moments, but it also has a rather interesting part in the middle where the chorus fragments into Russell repeatedly singing "I've never ah ah/I've never ah ah" before returning to the main part of the song. Lyrically, it's more or less a successor to "When Do I Get to Sing My Way?" in that it reflects on experiences never had, and the fact that he's never been high is hardly a point of celebration. Then it's off to the land of silly misogyny with "She Got Me (Pregnant)," a pseudo-ethnic (in the same way as "Goofing Off") song that's either about (a) an alternate reality in which women impregnate men and the man feeling angry about being used, or (b) the woman manipulating the man into getting her pregnant ... and the man feeling angry about being used. And best of all there's "Lighten Up, Morrissey," a guitar-heavy rocker about a guy who has difficulties with women because he's not as awesome as Morrissey. "She won't hang out with me, no, she won't hang out/'Til my biting wit bites like his/She won't hang out with me, no she won't hang out/'Til my quick retort's quick as his" is typical fare for the song, and I like the fact that, in the chorus, some of the iterations of the title end in a question mark (as if he's afraid to offend Morrissey by making such a request).

"This is the Renaissance" kinda sounds like a HYL leftover, what with the combination of the bombastic drums and the guitar using a tone that was pretty commonplace on that album, and it's basically a chance for Ron to write silly lyrics about the benefits of the Renaissance in relation to the Middle Ages. Sample lyric: "Science is here/Nothing left to fear/Though the Earth is flat/It's not as flat as we feared/Music's gone wild/No Gregorian here/Contrapuntal music is the music that your parents fear." It's not really an album highlight, but it's definitely not a lowlight either. And finally, just when it seems that the album has taken a pretty steep dive after "Lighten Up, Morrissey," the album closer "Likeable" redeems things more than a bit. It really seems like Ron is writing out a sad desperate fantasy here, where he easily gets along with everybody around him and everybody wants to be his friend. The song is energetic but angry and mournful, with Russell frequently using rhythmic speaking in a HYL manner over the hyperactive keyboard and guitar parts, and except for the semi-cheerful carnival music in the "No-one ever wears a frown ..." parts, the song really gives the sense of somebody yelling "I'M LIKEABLE! I'M LIKEABLE!" into a mirror before going outside to deal with society. The return to the "I don't care if you like me, just so you love me ..." parts from the beginning of the album is a nice touch as well.

The album's a bit of a mixed bag on the whole, yes, but there's so much really good material that I feel like this grade is justified. Given that Ron was well over 60 at this point and Russell was nearly as old, this album has to be considered a significant success by any reasonable standard. If you liked the last two albums you'll probably like this one, but be aware that it doesn't really sound the same.

Thanks to chris s for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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