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Sparks: Sparks (reissue)

Call 'em what you want, whether it be pop, avant-garde, Broadway styled theatrical rock, or plain old prog, Sparks were certainly almost always an enigma, a band whose sound bordered on the eccentric and never really seemed to fit into any mold or classification. The self-titled debut album originally released in 1972 and produced by none other than Todd Rundgren was actually way ahead of its time, no doubt influencing bands such as Queen, Aviary, New England, and perhaps even latter day Utopia as well. Listening to the early Sparks material is like experiencing a musical with a carnival -like atmosphere, as each song takes you to another exhibit, from one wild ride to a bizarre freak show to a humorous comedic attraction. Basically a band of brothers, Sparks featured the Ron and Russell Mael on keyboards and vocals, Harley Feinstein on drums, Earle Mankey on guitar and his brother Jim on bass.

Overall, the music on Sparks is quirky, lightheard and fun, with songs like "High C" coming across like a rock and roll waltz, "Wonder Girl" a great pop ditty, and "Fletcher Honorama" a great Beatles-like moody pop rocker. "Fa La Fa Lee" seems to have predated the new wave moment of the early 80's, as you can definitely see where bands like The Cars and Blondie might have gotten some inspiration with the song's bouncy keyboard work, upbeat rhythms, jangly guitar work, and clever lyrical delivery from Russell Mael. In fact, Mael's vocals really give the band their unique sound, as he has this aura of bravado, elegance, and theatricality that takes Sparks to areas of rock that no band had really explored at that time. Queen's Freddie Mercury would soon afterwards go a similar route and push his band to superstardom. Other strong tracks on the album include the quirky prog number "Simple Ballet", featuring some majestic piano work from Ron Mael, the off-the-wall bizareness of "Biology 2", a real avant-garde number with sped up vocals (sounding like a cross between The Chipmunks and The Mothers of Invention) and slashing guitar and keyboard lines, the soaring progressive rock-meets early new wave of "Big Bands", and the blistering guitar rock of the single "(No More) Mr. Nice Guys". Many will remember this last one, with its catchy hook, layers of harmony vocals, and plenty of crunchy riffs from Earle Mankey.

Sparks is not the type of band that you can immediately get into after one or two listens, especially their early material. However, after while you start to uncover all the little nuances of their music that made them such a unique band. If your tastes run off the beaten path, and you can appreciate rock music with a theatrical flair that runs the gamut from pop to avant-garde, give Sparks a try.

Track Listing
1. Wonder Girl
2. Fa La Fa Lee
3. Roger
4. High C
5. Fletcher Honorama
6. Simple Ballet
7. Slowboat
8. Biology 2
9. Saccharin and the War
10. Big Bands
11. (No More) Mr. Nice Guys

Added: May 18th 2006
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Sparks Website
Hits: 2210
Language: english

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