Sparks is one of those bands with such a big cult following that you inevitably encounter someone who loves them. I have, at some point, but it wasn’t a friend, just people on the internet. Reading a lot about a band always gives one impressions, and those impressions are often wrong. So it was with Sparks I’ve listened to at least one other album of theirs for the podcast and dropped it immediately because it both seemed far less interesting than I was expecting and because it was hard to see why it was a big deal. (I believe the album I am thinking of is from the ’80s.)
This is very straight-forward glam pop rock and pop that sounds like it is way less straight-forward because of Russell Mael’s way over-the-top delivery. The degree to which this music is regarded as quirky and too weird for commercial radio is, to my ears, solely the result of Russell Mael’s voice. It’s fascinating that a voice can do that but I think that’s what’s going on here.
Because this is catchy power pop, for the most part. Musically it almost feels like it’s a slightly glammier version of Cheap Trick or something like that. (I get that this comparison is unfair to Sparks, as they predate Cheap Trick. Just trying to think of someone similar musically.) It certainly doesn’t strike me as particularly arty or weird, especially given the era, when everyone was making extremely arty music. If anything, it stands out like the music of T. Rex or Mott the Hoople or Big Star or whomever for how not arty it is in relation to the actual art rock of the time.
But then you hear Russell Mael’s falsetto and your brain is like “What the fuck is this?!?!” and then suddenly you’ve decided it must be art rock or something. I mean, I think that’s what’s happened. Certainly any male singer with this high a voice and this flamboyant a persona was going to be a cult figure in the US – his thing is much more the kind of thing the Brits go for. But that doesn’t make the music particularly interesting.
I don’t love glam rock or power pop. I like my music arty. So when I listen to a band that is presented, by some, as arty and they’re, well, not arty, I get disappointed. I cannot help that.
Super duper catchy though.