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Sparks

Sparks

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Album Review

Within the first track of their debut album — the crisp, minimal pounder "Wonder Girl," featuring Russell Mael's falsetto already engaged in swooping acrobatics and Ron Mael's sparkling piano work to the fore, singing ever-so-slightly-weird lyrics about love that couldn't quite be taken at face value — Sparks established themselves so perfectly that arguably the rest of the brothers' long career has been a continual refinement from that basic formula. Even more striking is realizing how astoundingly prescient it was; what must have sounded indescribably strange in 1972 now feels like the precursor to nearly all of new wave, a fair chunk of synth-pop, and just about any music with a brain. As it stands, the original Sparks group, with brothers Jim and Earle Mankey on bass and guitar and Harvey Feinstein on drums accompanying the Maels, was as tight and accomplished as the classic Alice Cooper lineup, but given to their own brand of clever insanity (the fact that there's a loud-rocking original on here called "(No More) Mr. Nice Guys" makes you wonder if that other band wasn't listening in). Todd Rundgren's production is generally spare but very effective, with snippets of cymbal and keyboard leaping out from the speakers at odd moments. The twisted, '50s piano-rock loper "High C" practically invents Queen in both shuffling rock-out and heavy rockabilly camp phases; "Fletcher Honorama" slides and slinks along in a wickedly dreamy way; and "Slowboat" combines show tunes, cabaret, and rock to magnificent effect. With other songs like "Biology 2," "Fa La Fa Lee," and the brilliantly titled "Saccaharin and the War," Sparks remains a wonderfully entertaining listen and an honestly unique debut.

Biography

Formed: 1970 in Los Angeles, CA

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Sparks is the vehicle for the skewed pop smarts and wise-guy wordplay of brothers Ron and Russell Mael, Los Angeles natives who spent their childhood modeling young men's apparel for mail-order catalogs. While attending UCLA in 1970, the Maels formed their first group, Halfnelson, which featured songwriter Ron on keyboards and Russell as lead vocalist; the...
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Sparks, Sparks
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