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Sparks - Propaganda CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

4.09 | 59 ratings

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4 stars It would be very easy to dismiss this as Kimono My House's little brother or something like that. It was released six months after Kimono, it has the same producer and some of the same non-Mael musicians as Kimono (guitarist Adrian Fisher and drummer Norman Diamond return, though some of the guitar is provided by Trevor White), it's closer in style to Kimono than any other 70s Sparks album is to any of its adjacent albums, and weirdly enough it manages to cram the material that irritates me most near the end, just as on Kimono. And yet, the slight lack of polish that keeps the album from reaching as many glorious heights as its predecessor also lends a variety and messiness that mostly compensates, and the album ends up as at least 90% as enjoyable as Kimono. It's not quite Sparks crossed with Kimono, but it's as close as one could reasonably expect to get.

As mentioned, the album has an annoying stretch near the end, though it recovers strongly with the closing "Bon Voyage," which sets lyrics that seem to be about people waving goodbye to Noah's ark to music that alternates between anthemic bombast in the chorus and a whole lot of variation in the verses. "Achoo" is a decent enough bouncy number (which appears to be about dealing with your girl leaving you for a doctor) that features Russell fake-sneezing as a hook from time to time, but the band just couldn't leave well enough alone, and the song ends with a seemingly endless series of "Achoo" sounds piled on top of each other that just irritate the hell out of me. "Who Don't Like Kids" is more than a little dubious lyrically, but I could forgive the song (because, really, this is yet another song where I can't make out what the hell Russell is singing unless I look up the lyrics) and its excessive giddiness if it weren't for the occasional interlude of a bunch of kids singing the chorus in a way that drives me up a wall. I normally try to avoid "annoying" as a primary reason to dislike a song or two, but these two push the boundaries in such a way that I have to make an exception.

Thank goodness for the first eight tracks. The opening title track is a 25-second snippet of a capella circus music (Russell harmonizes with several layers of himself in a fascinating way), and it's immediately followed by "At Home, At Work, At Play," which is almost certainly my favorite Sparks song. It definitely sounds somewhat like a Kimono retread, but I'm ok with that; there's not a thing in this three-minute slab of bombastic keyboard-heavy glam rock that I would change. The lyrics are about a guy who is jealous of the time that his girl spends with other people despite the fact that she spends pretty much all of her time with him in some capacity, and it has some of the most hilariously elaborate lyrics about lust ever written crossed with elaborate laments about how there just isn't enough time to spend with her (even though, again, she's with him all of the time). It's the best combination of clever lyric and interesting/catchy music that I've ever heard from Sparks, and it's a track that I haven't grown tired of in the least despite the fact that it's certainly the Sparks track that I've listened to most over the years. If you've never heard this song or read the lyrics to it, do both right now.

The rest can't live up to such a great start, but it gives a noble effort. "Reinforcements" (a music-hall number with a martial rhythm in the chorus) and "B.C." (a silly number about a man named Aaron who doesn't want his wife, Betty, to leave him and take their son, Charlie, because it would ruin the greatness of having a family that can be called "ABC") are relatively trite by the standards of the band's best work, but they're cute, so they can stick around. Much better is the following "Thanks But No Thanks," a Kimono-worthy number about a kid who has to keep turning down the advances of sexual predators as he goes home (" orders come from high above me ..."), since his parents have ordered him to ("...about a foot or two above me ...") even though he feels bad about hurting their feelings, all set to a memorable tune that climaxes with a guitar solo that sounds an awful lot like an electric violin to me but apparently isn't. "Don't Leave Me Alone With Her" takes the "spending time with my wife is annoying because she's boring and the world isn't" concept of "Thank God it's Not Christmas" and amplifies it into "my wife is f$%*($&ing terrifying," set to a stomping ominous tune that makes it a minor classic. On the other side, "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth" takes misogyny in a new direction, combining a relatively gentle harpsichord-based number (except for the weird breakdown in the middle) with lyrics that allude to the horrible things that Mother Earth can do when angry (with the implication that you shouldn't cheat on her), and while I'm a little surprised that this would have gotten the nod over "Home/Work/Play" to be a single, I'm not surprised it did pretty well in that regard. And finally, "Something for the Girl with Everything" is a cheery number whose tune masks lyrics that convey the sheer terror that comes from trying to find a gift for somebody who is blackmailing you, and seeking things that will make her happy and also not want to talk ("Three wise men are here/bearing gifts to aid amnesia").

There were also a couple of B-sides from the era, and they're decent enough, though not as great as their Kimono counterparts. "Alabamy Right" is yet another bit of music-hall influenced pop, this time apparently about dealing with the late-day rush as a supermarket cashier, and "Marry Me" is the one time that the misogyny gives way to reveal somebody who actually wants a happy quiet life with somebody (key stanza: "A happily-ever-after does that seem too much to ask?/With trees and tots and stucco walls and fountains in the back/And lawns that you or I can mow and neighbours who will chat/About important issues and the state of this 'n that") despite all of the pretense elsewhere in the band's material.

While this album certainly has its downsides, it also has so many great aspects that, for anybody who likes bombastic 70s pop, it's practically essential. If you've bought Sparks and Kimono already and like them, this should be your next stop. It's probably for the best that they didn't try to make another album in this vein, though.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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