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Exotic Creatures of the Deep

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Album Review

Bookended as it is by Russell Mael's wordless chorale vocals that help kick off the opening "Intro" and which recur in the soothing but strange conclusion to the final song, "Likeable," not to mention similar moments throughout the album, it's almost too easy to summarize Exotic Creatures of the Deep as Sparks' most involved tribute to the Beach Boys, late-'60s version. But as with nearly everything the band's ever done, one can't sum up an album quite as simply as that, and Exotic Creatures, if not as completely explosive as Hello Young Lovers at its heights, finds the rude creative health of the Maels still firing on all cylinders. The amalgam of orchestrations, feedback, and a new millennium's electronics evident in recent releases often sounds all the more integrated here, readily heard on the post-one-night-stand scenario lead single "Good Morning." Similarly, multi-part arrangements recur on efforts like "Strange Animal" and the outrageous "(She Got Me) Pregnant." That all said, the other key element to Sparks' continued success — Ron Mael's catchy melodies and utterly skew-whiff take on humanity and its foibles — equally holds sway, and if time lends some inevitable familiarity to the tropes, the variations are still strong enough to work wonders. The simmering political discontents that had already popped up in the Maels' 21st century work crystallize with "Let the Monkey Drive," a slam on a certain 43rd president with some of Ron's angriest piano parts, while they tip their hat to a noted disciple with "Lighten Up, Morrissey" (actually meant to be a portrayal of a despairing man whose girlfriend is so obsessed with said singer that their relationship is on the rocks). Compared to Hello Young Lovers, Exotic Creatures does sound a little starker at points, but it's often also subtler and slyer, tempering bombast in favor of sprightly but also uneasy melodies on songs like "The Director Never Yelled 'Cut'." Perhaps the most emblematic song of the whole album is a swaggering electro-glam stomp, at once reminiscent of their early English heyday and perfectly in sync with the post-schaffel pop universe, with a killer vocal performance by Russell topped by his intoning of the song title in the chorus — "I Can't Believe That You Would Fall for All the Crap in This Song."

Customer Reviews

Sparks Masterpiece...Again!

Yet again Sparks brothers Ron and Russell Mael transcend the commonplace pop status quo and deliver an album that speaks to the capability of what pop music can and should be. While all the competition, current and past have seemingly given up on the idea of producing material that provokes, excites, questions, demands, and instills a grander purpose for pop music, Sparks continues to sizzle with ideas and sophisticated music on this their 21st album. Having completed their epic 21-night run of shows in London where they performed all 20 of their previous albums with the culmination of the debut of Exotic Creatures, the sell-out crowd was held in rapture at the performance of this new opus. From beginning to end, this album takes the listener through an aural and lyrical assault that no one in music is even coming close to matching. Ron Mael's lyrics have never been more poignant and biting than on this work. Surely some day he will be recognized for his lyrical talents that rival Cole Porter. Get this album and believe once again in the power of what pop music can be. Sparks are the only ones who continue to care.

A trilogy complete

The Mael Brothers began their musical revolution with Lil' Beethoven, it evolved nicely with Hello Young Lovers, and seems to have concluded with this latest (and 21st studio recording) album, Exotic Creatures of the Deep. Ron Mael's dipping into classical elements has created music that has a timeless sound to it yet with enough modern elements that the listener would recognize this as music regardless of it being 2008 or 1708. Exotic Creatures has, by far, the most modern sound of the three classically-toned releases. It dips into the Sparks catalog effectively to bring forth musical elements from their "glam" era while presenting lyrical content of such great sardonic wit to recall their SoCal "Golden Years" of the early '80's. "Good Morning" is a song that should start off every Alt-Rock radio's morning show, being excessively infectious of melody and story. This is Top 40 material if only the existence of this song were known. As is "Lighten Up, Morrissey". Other great tracks include "Let the Monkey Drive", "I Can't Believe etc." , and "This Is the Renaissance". Some tracks though are starting to sound a little "tired" with the classical elements though. "Photoshop" is a great song but the classical progressions sound like they were cut right out of "Dick Around" from the previous album. Other songs also do this to some extent and begs the question: what's the next innovative trilogy going to be Sparks?


Just to suggest/speak. If you adored their previous two efforts ("Hello Young Lovers" and "Lil' Beethoven") then this album should console well. Also, mind this is their 21st album released. Wonderful contribution toward my ears.


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 band was rounded out by another pair of brothers, guitarist Earle and bassist Jim Mankey, and drummer Harley Feinstein. Halfnelson soon came...
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Exotic Creatures of the Deep, Sparks
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