By Benjamin Baldwin, Editorial Staff (‘20)
Sparks, a quirky rock group from California that consists of the Mael brothers with a cult following and over fifty years of existence, has released their twenty-fourth studio album – an ultimately sharp and fun collection of Spark-yness. There are very few bands that can still release quality, interesting music almost fifty years after their debut, but Sparks is definitely one of them.
Never being a typical rock group, Sparks have gone through various stylistic shifts, starting with glam-rock in the early-70s, to Giorgio Morodor-produced synthpop, to new wave, to house music, and finally back to their glam-rock/baroque pop roots in the present day and age. What is constant throughout all of these incarnations of Sparks, however, is their knack for witty, satirical songwriting and unique showmanship. Their new record, thus, offers no real surprises, but, rather, further proves their excellent songwriting sensibilities, humor, and awareness of modern society.
The album’s opener, “All That,” is a mid-tempo sentimental ode to one’s shared memories, a song that is more serious and straightforward than most Sparks offerings and which opens up the record on a grand note.
The song “Lawnmower” offers their typically energetic theatrics that humorously depicts one’s lawnmower bravado, highlighting the absurdities of upper-class obsession with private landscaping. On the track, Russell Mael sings with narcissistic obliviousness “the neighbors are looking in awe at my lawnmower, with jealousy and awe at my lawnmower,” as if it were some type of status symbol.
“Stravinsky’s Only Hit” creates an absurdly amusing alternate history where Igor Stravinsky penned a one-off pop hit, and “iPhone” channels the Mael brother’s irritation at smart phones distracting from conversation (Russell sings several lecture-like recountings of knowledge between a chorus of “Put your f***ing iPhone down and listen to me”). It sometimes comes off even as a parody of its own critical perspective on technology, with the song’s narrator seeming to neurotically recount historical events to someone that he may not even know.
Overall, the record is a very enjoyable Sparks effort, with their typical absurdity, satire, and theatrics all at play here. If you are a Sparks fan or want to check out an absurd, witty, and quirky pop record, then you should check this out. Recommended.