Sparks Album Reviews by Martin Truksa

Kimono my house mon amour ...
The Seduction of Sparks

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The core of rock-group Sparks consists of brothers Ron Mael and Russell Mael.  Their
Todd Rundgren produced debut album was called 'Halfnelson' (1971) and this was followed a year later by 'A Woofer In Tweeters Clothing', produced by Jim Lowe of The Electric Prunes.  In 1974 the Maels brought their exotic appeal to London, by relocating to England and reforming with a new backing band.  They released two chart-breaking records, 'Kimono My House' (1974) and 'Propaganda' (1974) on the Island record label.  The brothers experienced 'Sparksmania' with these Muff Winwood produced L.P.s.  In 1975 came 'Indiscreet' (produced by legendary record producer Tony Visconti).  The 1976 record 'Big Beat' was produced by Rupert Holmes.  It featured big, lush orchestral arrangements, emphasising guitars in the mix and de-emphasising the keyboards.  'Introducing Sparks' (1977) was recorded using expensive, top-flight session musicians and was Sparks' bid for mainstream US radio acceptance.  Internationally acclaimed disco producer Giorgio Moroder gave the band a new life with 'No. 1 In Heaven' (1979) and follow-up electropop L.P. 'Terminal Jive' (1980).  The latter album was produced by 'Axel F' composer Harold Faltermeyer and single 'When I'm With You' became a massive hit in France.  Sparks returned to guitar-driven rock on 'Whomp That Sucker' (1981) and found the brothers working with a band again and with traditional song frameworks.  The album  'Angst In My Pants' (1982) was really popular in the brothers' native Los Angeles and tracks from the album were  played extensively on underground station K-Rock .  A number of synth-pop albums followed.  'Sparks In Outer Space' (1983) was Sparks' most successful album in the States due to modest hit 'Cool Places', a duet with Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Gos.  The love-ballad heavy album  'Pulling Rabbits Out Of A Hat' (1984) was the last album that Sparks had a formal producer for (Ian Little) and subsequently the brothers produced themselves. Dance album 'Music That You Can Dance To' (1986) included a cover version of Stevie Wonder's 'Fingertips' and the album's title track was popular in underground gay clubs.  After a six-year absence, Sparks released 'Interior Design' (1992) which is arguably the duo's obscurest album.  In 1994 came 'Gratuitous Sax And Senseless Violins' and some classic singles, including 'When Do I Get To Sing My Way', their biggest single to date in Germany.  Four years later (1998), Erasure, Faith No More and Jimmy Sommerville played tribute to Ron and Russell on the 'greatest hits' album, 'Plagiarism'.  Prodigy inspired 'Balls' was released in year 2000.  The highly acclaimed L.P. 'Lil Beethoven' followed in 2002;  disenchanted with the idea of doing more pop songs with the same song structures and same instrumentations, Ron Mael discarded the twelve tunes that he had written and the band started from scratch.  Sparks' 20th album, 'Hello Young Lovers', was released in 2006 and featured a lot of orchestrated stuff and lots more singing.  'Exotic Creatures Of The Deep' (2008) was an imaginative assault on the vacuousness of today's pop music. With 12 compositions of lethal grandeur, it remains a Sparks opus!  'The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman' (2009), a double-vinyl release, was commissioned by Sweden's public radio station Sveriges Radio, and the worlds of weird creatures Mssrs Mael and musical theatre have finally merged. ~~~~~~ Spectacular indeed ~~~~~~ !   A new album, Hippopotamus, will be released in 2017 along with a full-fledged world tour.

Sparks CDs

Sparks, brothers Ron Mael & Russell Mael, were originally called Urban Renewal Project and changed their name to Halfnelson in 1969 (and then to Sparks in the early 1970s).

Sparks first two albums,
Halfnelson and A Woofer In Tweeter's Clothing, were produced by American musician, singer and record producer Todd Rundgren.

Sparks first five Island singles all featured non-album tracks as B-sides (i.e. out-takes from the
Kimono My House and Propaganda recording sessions).  The parent albums reached numbers 4 and 9 in the UK charts respectively.

Indiscreet also produced several out-takes, including Gone With The Wind and Tearing The Place Apart.  These tracks later surfaced on a Best Of Sparks compilation put together by the late Dinky Diamond.  Indiscreet was produced by Tony Visconti.

The tune
I Like Girls was written for Sparks 2nd L.P. in 1972 but wasn't deemed good enough for inclusion.  It later appeared on Big Beat, Sparks 6th album, produced by Rupert Holmes.

Sparks lyrics

Introducing Sparks was, until recently, the only Sparks album not to have been released on CD. However the album was finally officially released on CD in 2007 on the bands' own Lil' Beethovenlabel.

Sparks rubbed shoulders with
M (Pop Muzik) and Mike Oldfield when they performed Beat The Clock (from album Number 1 In Heaven) on Top Of The Pops.

The single When I'm With You, taken from album
Terminal Jive, spent 6 weeks at number one in France.

Sparks recorded
Whomp That Sucker in Giorgio Moroder's Musicland studios.

The single I Predict from
Angst In My Pants gave Sparks a long overdue top 100 hit in their native USA.  Cool Places from Sparks In Outer Space (a duet with Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Gos) also made inroads into the American charts.

Pulling Rabbits Out Of A Hat was produced by Duran Duran producer Ian Little.

The 12 inch vinyl version of
Change (from Music That You Can Dance To) is coupled with an acoustic guitar version of This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us.  Change was performed on Terry Wogan's prime-time BBC chat show.

Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins is the first re-release in the new Sparks CD Collection series (re-released May 2005 and presented in a digi pack with sleeve notes by Daryl Easlea).  Gratuitous Sax was originally released in 1994.

Plagiarism is an exotic reworking of the best of Sparks' back catalogue, with the help of guest artists such as Erasure, Jimmy Somerville and Faith No More.

After releasing
Balls, Sparks recorded a whole album of new tunes which were a natural evolution from Balls.  But after much deep consideration, these songs were never released.

The track
My Baby's Taking Me Home from Lil Beethoven consists of the title repeated over 100 times, interspersed only by a brief monologue by Russell.

Sparks released a double A side single in 2006,
Dick Around / Waterproof, from their 20th album,  Hello Young Lovers.  The single was banned by the BBC.

38 years into their career,
Exotic Creatures Of The Deep, and single, Good Morning, were released in 2008. A special edition pressing of the album came housed in a Japanese-style wallet with poster.  A Morrissey referencing limited edition vinyl single, Lighten Up, Morrissey was released early in 2009.  The vinyl single was backed by brand new bonus B-side ditty Brenda Is Always In The Way (unavailable on CD outside of Japan). Truly remarkable!

The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman tells a fantasy "what if" story.  The Maels' love of Orson Welles and his use of the medium of radio inspired them, resulting in over 60 minutes of glorious music.

In 2011 Universal Music Japan reissued Kimono My House, Propaganda, Indiscreet and Big Beat in SHM-CD cardboard sleeve (mini LP) format. These Sparks CDs include an OBI strip, bonus tracks and fold-out Japanese lyric sheets and can be bought online from retailer HMV Japan.

Sparks Discography
Good morning!  Introducing brothers Russ and Ronald Mael.

Seduction of Ingmar Bergman Sign