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Crossover Prog • United States

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Sparks biography
Formed in 1972 in Los Angeles, USA - Still active as of 2017

L.A brothers Ron (keyboards) and Russell (vocals) Mael formed their first band Halfnelson in 1970 along with the other brothers, Earle Mankey (guitar) and Jim Mankey (bass). Harley Feinstein completed the quintet on drums. It was at this time Todd Rundgren honed in on them and convinced them to change their name to the SPARKS and in 1971, under a new label, their self titled debut was released.

Their brand of sound quickley developed a cult following especially in the UK, which prompted the Mael brothers crossing the Atlantic and setting up base there. The Mankey brothers went on to do other things, not least one of them joining Concrete Blonde. So with new band members to compliment the Mael brothers the SPARKS released their warmly received "Kimono My House" and later that same year another studio release called "Propoganda". The Mael brothers never ones to rest on their laurels returned to the USA after the not so successful 1975 release, "Indiscreet". Their glamorous art rock, crossover, new wave cocktail mix of sound even ventured into disco territory in the late 70's/early 80's. They remained prolific up to 1988's "Interior Design" before disappearing off the radar for a while until 1994 when more studio releases followed.

Their most recent release is 2009's "The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman", an eccentric and bizaar album, not dissimilar to a symphonic rock opera. The SPARKS always remained uncompromising and original to their sound, the proof of which is that their cult following still remains to this day. Visit their website also for a great insight to their history.

Sparks official website

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SPARKS Videos (YouTube and more)

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Buy SPARKS Music

BMG Rights Management (UK) Ltd 2017
Audio CD$7.98
$11.22 (used)
Kimono My HouseKimono My House
Extra tracks · Import · Remastered
Island 2008
Audio CD$5.48
Extra tracks · Import · Remastered
Imports 2006
Audio CD$4.99
$8.40 (used)
Exotic Creatures of the DeepExotic Creatures of the Deep
Lil Beethoven 2008
Audio CD$10.79
$6.90 (used)
2 For 1: Kimono My House/2 For 1: Kimono My House/
UNIVE 2013
Audio CD$11.81
$14.82 (used)
Right Now on Ebay (logo)
LP PROMO Halfnelson self titled SPARKS white label BV 3048 VG+/VG+ USD $27.00 [6 bids]
RANDY SPARKS s/t LP Verve FOLK 1958 USD $18.00 Buy It Now
Kimono My House - SPARKS - New USD $43.41 Buy It Now
Gemma Ray - Island Fire [Promo CD Album with 2 Sparks bonus tracks] USD $9.35 [0 bids]
Jordin Sparks - Battlefield (2009) USD $0.68 [0 bids]
Melvin Sparks Soul 45 Get Ya Some Mono Stereo USD $1.99 [0 bids]
Jordin Sparks: Battlefield Audio CD USD $3.98 Buy It Now
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What You Hear Is What You Get by Melvin Sparks (CD, Apr-2003, Savant) USD $13.43 Buy It Now
Larry Sparks-Let Him Lead You CD NEW USD $9.90 Buy It Now
SPARKS The number one song in heaven 7" vinyl USD $1.37 [0 bids]
Sparks - Propaganda [CD] USD $8.68 Buy It Now
GRAHAM PARKER & the Rumour - Squeezing Out Sparks (CD 1999) USD $6.99 Buy It Now
From Where I Stand - Nate Sparks (CD Used Very Good) USD $12.99 Buy It Now
SPARKS - IN OUTER SPACE - CD Oct-1998, Oglio Records - RON & RUSSELL MAEL USD $8.00 Buy It Now
SPARKS - 1972 - HALF NELSON - OOP - (CD, Jan-2006, Wounded Bird) - MINT! USD $15.99 Buy It Now
Maybe You Been Brainwashed 2005 by Sparks, Clinton . Disc Only/No Case USD $3.00 Buy It Now
Styles(100) - Mix&Match Music CDs - $3.99 flat ship USD $1.99 Buy It Now
Sparks Beat The Clock 7" Virgin VS270 EX/VG 1979 picture sleeve has Dymo tape on USD $10.38 Buy It Now
Sparks I Want To Hold Your Hand 7" Island WIP6282 EX 1979 there is sticker mark USD $43.62 Buy It Now
Sparks Girl From Germany 7" Bearsville K15516 EX 1973 there is sticker mark on s USD $14.54 Buy It Now
Sparks Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth 7" Island SIAA813 EX 1974 made in Yu USD $12.46 Buy It Now
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Styles(114) - Mix&Match Music CDs - $3.99 flat ship USD $39.99 Buy It Now
Let Him Lead You - Larry Sparks (CD Used Very Good) USD $7.70 Buy It Now
Tommy Sparks by Tommy Sparks (CD, Aug-2009, Universal Distribution) USD $7.10 Buy It Now
Roc Cafe/OK Dun [Vinyl], Clinton Sparks, Good Import USD $37.94 Buy It Now
Run This City/Whatever It Is [Vinyl], Clinton Sparks, Good Import, Single USD $6.99 Buy It Now
SPARKS GO Sandy'S Sunday CD JAPAN 1993 NEW USD $62.66 Buy It Now
The Best of Larry Sparks: Bound to Ride by Larry Sparks (CD, Jun-2008, Rebel) USD $13.00 Buy It Now
Larry Sparks - Best Of Larry Sparks: Bound To Ride (CD Used Like New) USD $7.47 Buy It Now
I'm Funky Now - Melvin Sparks Compact Disc USD $16.97 Buy It Now
SPARKS - TRYOUTS press clipping 1979 approx 20x30cm (20/10/79) USD $5.52 Buy It Now
SPARKS / WILD TURKEY at MARQUEE press clipping 1972 approx 9x9cm (30/12/72) USD $5.52 Buy It Now
SPARKS orIginal press clipping 20x28cm USD $5.52 Buy It Now
SPARKS - TERMINAL JIVE press clipping 1980 (9/02/80) USD $5.52 Buy It Now
DAYS OF WINE&VINYL 12" 33RPM LP Captain Beefheart Bowie Roxy Music Sparks EX! USD $8.99 Buy It Now
VOCALTONES: Meet The Sparks Of Rhythm LP Vocal Groups USD $18.00 Buy It Now
(EM732) United Ghosts, Sparks From A Cold Star - 2013 DJ CD USD $2.76 Buy It Now
Larry Sparks - Dark Hollow LP Mint- REB-1597 Vinyl 1982 Record USD $30.00 Buy It Now
Yellow Red Sparks-Yellow Red Sparks CD NEW USD $13.61 Buy It Now
Sparks Amateur Hour 7" vinyl single USD $11.08 [0 bids]
Tori Sparks - Until Morning / Come Out of the Dark [New Vinyl] USD $20.83 Buy It Now
GET CRAZY Soundtrack LP Morocco 6065CL 1983 Ramones Lou Reed Sparks indie punk USD $14.99 [0 bids]
USD $24.99 Buy It Now
Agent Sparks - Alternative - RED ROVER CD USD $4.99 Buy It Now
Reggae Lovers Rock Music Glen Washington Friends Trevor Sparks Dennis Brown CD USD $9.61 Buy It Now
MELVIN SPARKS: Get Ya Some / Mono 45 (dj) Soul USD $25.00 Buy It Now
Echo Sparks-Ghost Town Girl CD NEW USD $13.94 Buy It Now
Beachwood Sparks (CD Used Like New) USD $8.71 Buy It Now
DJ Lot 9 Vinyls T-Pain, J Timberlake, MOS, R Kelly, Papoose, Trilogy, J Sparks* USD $39.99 Buy It Now
Blue Sparks CD USD $3.46 Buy It Now
Mabel's Beauty Shop/Chainsaw by Melanie Sparks (CD, Ladyslipper) USD $15.99 Buy It Now
5-CD Lot Aly & AJ; Ashley Tisdale; Emma Roberts; Jordin Sparks; Miranda Cosgrove USD $14.22 Buy It Now
Randy Sparks Walkin' - The Low Road, Record 12" VG USD $35.00 Buy It Now
LARRY SPARKS 1980 John Deere Tractor LP Rebel 1588 Makin' Believe HOT SAUCE USD $14.99 Buy It Now
Sparks Fly (deluxe) [Miranda Cosgrove] [ExLibrary] USD $11.99 Buy It Now 13m 28s
Sparks and Tears 2003 by Charlie King & Karen Brandow *NO CASE DISC ONLY* USD $2.99 Buy It Now 27m 27s
Sparks That March - Drakes Hotel (CD Used Very Good) USD $9.23 Buy It Now 44m 30s
RANDY SPARKS 45 Julie Knows PROMO Pop BLUE VINYL 1964 e2762 USD $24.00 Buy It Now 46m 17s
Bionic Gold ORIG US LP Phil Spector Tribute Sparks Mick Farren New WavePower Pop USD $19.96 Buy It Now 1h 20m
Sparks - Propaganda [CD New] USD $9.22 Buy It Now 1h 57m
Battlefield [Jordin Sparks] [ExLibrary] USD $5.99 Buy It Now 2h 21m
Clinton Sparks Presents "Maybe You Been Brainwashed" Classic Hardcore Hip-Hop USD $5.00 [0 bids]
2h 28m
SPARKS In Outer Space TECI-26551 CD JAPAN 2009 OBI USD $223.52 Buy It Now 2h 43m
Jordin Sparks - (cd 2008) USD $4.08 Buy It Now 3h 23m
Battlefield by Jordin Sparks (CD, Jul-2009, 19) 12 tracks USD $3.99 Buy It Now 3h 25m
Jimmie Lunceford - The Last Sparks: 1941-1944 LP vinyl record FACTORY SEALED USD $6.99 Buy It Now 3h 36m
Marks & Sparks (UK IMPORT) CD NEW USD $15.08 Buy It Now 4h 58m
40 - Larry Sparks Compact Disc USD $18.36 Buy It Now 5h 11m
Squeezing Out Sparks Graham Parker & the Rumour Vinyl LP Album 1970s pressing USD $13.85 [0 bids]
6h 43m
Sparks - Something For The Girl With Everything 1974 7" Island WIP 6221 USD $4.85 Buy It Now 6h 55m
SPARKS_When I'm With You_used 45 VINYL_7"_ships from AUS!_OH7B USD $9.60 Buy It Now 7h 6m
SPARKS Big Beat LP VINYL European Island 2017 12 Track 180 Gram Heavyweight USD $30.51 Buy It Now 7h 34m
SPARKS - GIRL FROM GERMANY - 7" 45 rpm vinyl record USD $3.46 Buy It Now 7h 36m
SPARKS Indiscreet LP VINYL European Island 2017 13 Track 180 Gram Heavyweight USD $30.51 Buy It Now 7h 40m
SPARKS Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins BVCP-827 CD JAPAN PROMO 1995 NEW USD $105.89 Buy It Now 8h 9m
Jordin Sparks (CD Album) Used Very Good USD $3.12 Buy It Now 8h 10m
SPARKS - Beat The Clock - Excellent Condition 7" Single Virgib VS 270 USD $5.51 Buy It Now 8h 32m
8h 33m
Sparks - Angst In My Pants 2013 (NEW CD) USD $13.49 Buy It Now 8h 36m
Sparks - Terminal Jive 2013 (NEW CD) USD $13.49 Buy It Now 8h 36m
Sparks - In Outer Space 2013 (NEW CD) USD $13.49 Buy It Now 8h 37m
Graham Parker: Squeezing Out Sparks (1979, LP) Arista AB 4223 USD $3.95 Buy It Now 8h 42m
Kutan; Christie; Wong Ch...-And Blue Sparks Burn CD NEW USD $16.44 Buy It Now 8h 44m
SPARKS WHEN I'M WITH YOU near mint 1980 UK VINYL 45 SINGLE USD $4.15 [0 bids]
8h 51m
SPARKS YOUNG GIRLS near mint 1980 UK VINYL 45 SINGLE USD $4.15 [0 bids]
8h 51m
SPARKS GO Mexico 98 ESCB-1882 CD JAPAN 1998 NEW USD $73.65 Buy It Now 9h 4m

More places to buy SPARKS music online Buy SPARKS & Prog Rock Digital Music online:
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SPARKS discography

Ordered by release date | Showing ratings (top albums) | Help to complete the discography and add albums

SPARKS top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

4.01 | 29 ratings
Halfnelson [Aka: Sparks]
3.22 | 26 ratings
A Woofer In Tweeter's Clothing
3.89 | 65 ratings
Kimono My House
3.92 | 56 ratings
3.08 | 40 ratings
3.62 | 28 ratings
Big Beat
3.24 | 20 ratings
Introducing Sparks
3.63 | 26 ratings
No.1 In Heaven
2.62 | 17 ratings
Terminal Jive
3.27 | 20 ratings
Whomp That Sucker
2.97 | 18 ratings
Angst In My Pants
2.85 | 15 ratings
In Outer Space
1.47 | 13 ratings
Pulling Rabbits Out Of A Hat
2.00 | 9 ratings
Music That You Can Dance To
1.29 | 9 ratings
Interior Design [Aka: Just Got Back From Heaven]
3.32 | 18 ratings
Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins
2.87 | 11 ratings
4.25 | 42 ratings
Lil' Beethoven
3.97 | 25 ratings
Hello Young Lovers
3.50 | 18 ratings
Exotic Creatures Of The Deep
3.15 | 14 ratings
The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman
3.50 | 4 ratings
Franz Ferdinand & Sparks: FFS
4.21 | 21 ratings

SPARKS Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.00 | 4 ratings
Two Hands, One Mouth: Live in Europe

SPARKS Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

SPARKS Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

2.96 | 8 ratings
2.50 | 2 ratings
The Best of Sparks

SPARKS Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

3.00 | 4 ratings
This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us
3.78 | 4 ratings
Dick Around

SPARKS Reviews

Showing last 10 reviews only
 Propaganda by SPARKS album cover Studio Album, 1974
3.92 | 56 ratings

Sparks Crossover Prog

Review by poito

2 stars I tried this along with the former release KIMONO to have a real taste of this band, since my first picks turned out to be great prog albums LIL'BETHOVEN and HIPPOPOTAMUS. And it confirmed what I've been reading about the Mael's brothers music. It is music for the fun, they don't take seriously what they are doing, or maybe they do, and that's just how they are. But they have a great potential for creation and amazing sensitivity (that you can find in those other albums). It is OK, I mean, I won't criticize them but that is not what I'm looking for in music. Anyway, this album includes a few interesting themes that escaped their humoristic filter and go farther away, as Bon Voyage. It is a crime these guys don't use their talent for creation.
 Kimono My House by SPARKS album cover Studio Album, 1974
3.89 | 65 ratings

Kimono My House
Sparks Crossover Prog

Review by poito

1 stars Finally, I found it. The un-prog music by Sparks I mean. I started with LIL'BETHOVEN, which is a great album and then I moved to their latest release HIPPOPOTAMUS for a comparison, but it turned out to be an amazing album as well, full of themes with extraordinary richness and compositional mastery. But this was not what the media were telling about the band. This album KMH is supposed to be one of their best, and indeed it is music for amusement, with high spirited tunes to have fun in parties and so. The guys are close to Zappa-style, but definitely there is little left out of entertainment. Pity. They are so good. I would spare the opening track for Prog followers, This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us.
 Hippopotamus by SPARKS album cover Studio Album, 2017
4.21 | 21 ratings

Sparks Crossover Prog

Review by poito

5 stars Striking the music by this band. I had reviewed what I thought it was their only Prog album, LIL'BETHOVEN, but I liked so much that decided to try some of their "other" music. The band is being around since the Jurassic, and this must be album number 25 or close. The Mael brothers still at the front. First, if you never listened to them, you'll get a very nice surprise. It is high quality avant-garde-pop-glam-RIO style. The themes are for the fun, but in such a good musical wrapping. At times it sounds like Queen, others like Zappa, or Manfred Mann. Probably, they are better known than I thought, and they just sound as themselves. They are really good song-crafters, masters of composition, they really know when to enter an instrument and the effect it has on the listener. I've enjoyed every single one of the fifteen songs. Don't need to single one out. Just buy the album and enjoy. But if you want to have a taste first, listen to this track, So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln.
 Lil' Beethoven by SPARKS album cover Studio Album, 2002
4.25 | 42 ratings

Lil' Beethoven
Sparks Crossover Prog

Review by poito

4 stars 3.8. I had never listened to this band before. I came to this album attracted by a curious comment in which someone mentioned this was their only prog album in a long career. So I thought that it might be fun and I gave it a try, maybe they were trying to show something. And yes, I totally agree. This is a very good prog album with a fresh air. The composition is got a Zappa-like avant-gard style, with 3-5 min tracks in which they use plenty of short cheerful motifs and abundant voices, greatly sung in a frontman and back-choirs game, charade style, a bit too repetitive maybe. The lyrics sometimes have satiric/social content and others it is just senseless or frugal, you get it from the titles. But all of it is wrapped with marvelous music, combining instruments in a delicate and clever manner. If you don't pay attention to the lyrics, globally the album kind of has a Prog-Rock opera style, a good one. These people make music, no doubt. Pity their usual style is Pop for the fun, haunting and pleasing large audiences and having fun in live shows. They would have crafted a great career in the league of honor, the Prog scene, but it seems they began in a glam-rock style alla Bolan/TRex, precursors of Frank Ferdinand and the likes. All tracks here are good to listen for a standard light prog fan, with some highs in The Rhythm Thief, How Do I Get To Carnegie Hall, Ride'Em Cowboy, Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls and Your Call's Very Important to Us. Please Hold.
 Hippopotamus by SPARKS album cover Studio Album, 2017
4.21 | 21 ratings

Sparks Crossover Prog

Review by omphaloskepsis

5 stars 90/100 Wow! Hippopotamus is my favorite Sparks album ever! Blindsided by Sparks' contagious catchy cabaret, Hippopotamus sideswiped me. Zee Mael brothers have outdone themselves. Decades haven't dulled the knife sharp sheen off the Mael's, instead Father Time honed, polished and focused the Mael Brother's song craft skills.

Top shelf, eclectic, humorous lyrics abound, Russell Mael waxes poetic on advantages of the ever popular go-to "Missionary Position" and his Spartan "Scandinavian" furniture collection. The sarcastic "Unaware" and "I Wish You Were Fun" poke fun at the fairer sex. You got to grin at Russell warbling, " So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside From That, How Was The Play?" Literary allusions and history lessons like Macbeth and Edith Piaf literally litter the hysterical lyrical landscape of Hippopotamus.

" Russell Mael, myself and my husband sing along and share knowing smiles listening to Sparks' wit, coupled with resplendent, gorgeous piano riffing of Ron Mael. Unlike other older rock vocalists, Russell's vocals are clean and operatic as ever. His voice is extremely unusual yet catchy. Somehow Sparks break new ground while staying seductively melodic. The Maels share a P.O. box on Memory Lane. Every song is memorable.

Ironically, I found title track Hippopotamus the weakest song, still you got to salute Ron and Russell for rhyming abacus, Hieronymus Bosch , anonymous, and Titus Andronicus with Hippopotamus instead of falling into the clichÚ "Rhinoceros rhyme trap"!

Hippopotamus, though an acquired taste, puts the POP back in Hippopotamus and equals or supasses Sparks 70's classics "Kimono my House" and "Propaganda". For fans of superior song craft, marvelous piano runs, operatic Germanic vocals, Beardfish and Zappa lyrical satire!

 No.1 In Heaven by SPARKS album cover Studio Album, 1979
3.63 | 26 ratings

No.1 In Heaven
Sparks Crossover Prog

Review by Warthur
Prog Reviewer

4 stars After their glam rock-influenced style as pioneered on Kimono My House an its followups stopped paying the bills, Sparks shifted gear to synthpop territory. The transition is actually quite successful: they brought in Giorgio Moroder to help out at the production desk, which was a good start, and since their music had always focused a lot on Ron Mael's keyboards a shift to more modern electronic sounds seemed entirely natural. Russell's vocal style also takes well to the synthpop format, and their ornate writing style adds a somewhat progressive spin to the compositions. Yes, it's cheesy, but "Tryouts For the Human Race" and the like are hardly simplistic disco numbers.
 This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us by SPARKS album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 1974
3.00 | 4 ratings

This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us
Sparks Crossover Prog

Review by Matti
Prog Reviewer

3 stars 'This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us' is easily the best known song by this quirky art-pop group led by the eccentric Mael brothers from Los Angeles. I don't know if it can be described as prog, at least in the usual sense, but it makes most music of their British contemporaries QUEEN sound lame in comparison, and a lot of 10CC as well. In some way they sounded like being many years ahead of their time. This fast, frenzy, highly strung song with theatrically high vocals is like a turkish pepper: it leaves no one cold but doesn't necessarily make you want more. An interesting detail about the writing of this song is that originally it was thought to include (for the chorus) various clichÚs familiar from B movies, but "this town ain't big enough for both of us" won the honour alone.

'Barbecutie' on the single's B side is an average Sparks song, reminding a little of the early ROXY MUSIC (e.g. 'Virginia Plain') but is more straight forward [glam] rock. Nothing I would want to hear many times. I must say Sparks have never been among my listenings. When I was a child the album covers of Kimono My House and especially Propaganda (with the tied couple seated on a boat) made a strong impression on me, and 'This Town...' still sounds powerful and unique whenever I happen to hear it. Once I borrowed a compilation of this band but I didn't much like the music in general. So if there's a band that I want to remember by just one particular song, it's this one.

 Two Hands, One Mouth: Live in Europe by SPARKS album cover Live, 2013
3.00 | 4 ratings

Two Hands, One Mouth: Live in Europe
Sparks Crossover Prog

Review by tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Somehow, despite having regularly recorded albums for over 40 years, Sparks didn't release any live albums before 2013. If the brothers had felt really ballsy, their first live release would have been a 21-disc boxset of the Sparks Spectacular from 2008, which would also have freed them from ever considering another live album thereafter. If they'd wanted to go a more conventional route, they could have released a comprehensive 2-CD live album, recorded with a full band, which could have provided 2 hours or so of career- spanning live entertainment. Well, the brothers decided to go a route that's unusual but also a little underwhelming. This is a 2-CD live album, but the second disc is only about 20 minutes long (containing the encore from the show), and the lineup is just Ron playing keyboards and Russell singing, with no support (hence the name of the album).

This set is worth hearing and is basically enjoyable, but it's underwhelming on the whole. I would say there are two significant highlights that stand out from the rest. The first is a rendition of "Singing in the Shower," a track that originated in a post-Interior Design collaboration with Les Rita Mitsouko and had an absolutely horrendous arrangement but sounds quite nice when given a sparser music hall treatment. The second is the version of "The Number Song in Heaven" that they perform in the encore, focusing on the first half of the song and giving Russell's incredibly well-preserved 64-year-old falsetto a chance to shine. Plus, the moment when Ron switches from the angelic choir keyboard parts into the more rhythmic sequenced sounds is a great and memorable one.

Aside from these performances, though, the lack of a full band ends up forcing pretty much all of the set into a fairly limited sonic space, and most of the renditions on here end up as amusing trifles. The setlist is heavy on albums that could provide material for such an approach, of course; Propaganda contributes 4 tracks (the title track, "At Home, At Work, At Play," "Something for the Girl With Everything," "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth"), Indiscreet ("Hospitality on Parade," "Under the Table With Her"), No. 1 in Heaven ("The Number One Song in Heaven", "Beat the Clock") and Hello Young Lovers ("Metaphor," a sadly shortened "Dick Around") 2 a piece , Lil' Beethoven 3 ("My Baby's Taking Me Home," "The Rhythm Thief," "Suburban Homeboy"), and there are scattered tracks from here and there. Kimono only has the obligatory "This Town" nod (and boy it sounds odd without guitar), the 80s are only acknowledged with "Singing in the Shower" and "Sherlock Holmes," Exotic Creatures only has "Good Morning" to represent it, and of course there's "When Do I Get to Sing My Way?" to close off the main set. There's also a really dumb rarity called "The Wedding of Jacqueline Kennedy to Russell Mael" (in which Russell pretends to get married to Jacqueline Kennedy and Ron plays the Wedding March), a short medley of material from The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, and a totally forgettable new song at the end in the title track. Oh, and there's a fun keyboard medley at the beginning called "Sparks Overture," where some songs that made the album are joined by others that were probably performed but not recorded ("I Married Myself" and "Looks, Looks, Looks" are recognizable in addition to "Good Morning," "When Do I Get to Sing My Way," "This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us," "Dick Around," "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth," "Something for the Girl With Everything" and "Suburban Homeboy"). Many of these tracks sound just fine, but there's little here that I'd go out of my way to hear in place of the corresponding original, and that's something I need to rate a live album highly.

Honestly, if this ends up as the only live album they ever put out, I'll find myself wishing that they'd never bothered; it would have been better to have the gaping "what-if" than to answer it with a relative throwaway. Anybody who fancies themselves as a hardcore fan should seek this out, and it's worth a few listens, but a casual fan could do well to stay away.

 The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman by SPARKS album cover Studio Album, 2009
3.15 | 14 ratings

The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman
Sparks Crossover Prog

Review by tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Sometimes there's something to be said for staying in your lane. Through assorted means, the brothers received a commission to write a Sweden-related radio musical for Swedish national radio, and the result was this fictional tale involving the famous movie director Ingmar Bergman (played by Jonas Malmsj÷). The story, more or less, is as follows: soon after winning an award at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, Ingmar feels the need to go watch an American action movie, despite the fact that he hates escapist art. He comes out of the movie theater and is surprised to find himself in Hollywood, with a limo waiting for him. He's taken to a meeting with various Hollywood studio executives, who try to persuade him to stay and make films there, despite the fact he hates everything about Hollywood and all that it stands for. Initially, he feels torn; he doesn't want to sell out, but the ability to have real financing for his movies seems like too good of a deal to pass on. After starting to settle into the realities of Hollywood life, including actresses who don't respect him and people constantly asking for his autograph, he decides he needs to get away, even though Sweden may or may not exist in this reality. As he's making his way on foot from his hotel, he realizes that he's being chased by police and helicopters, bringing him into the horrible irony of being an actor in a bad, big-budget Hollywood action film. He comes to the seashore, prays for help, meets the angel of Greta Garbo, goes to a movie with her, leaves the movie and finds himself back in Sweden. Fin.

I suppose it should be considered a success that this project isn't a complete disaster. There are a handful of really memorable and interesting bits, even if a lot of the album consists of "transitional" material. "Why Do You Take That Tone With Me?" features a great vocal from opera singer Rebecca Sj÷wall, depicting an angry Hollywood starlet who doesn't like the condescension that Bergman oozes with every word and action on the set, and there's a good deal of dramatic heft in it. "Limo Driver (Welcome to Hollywood)" offers a chance to hear Ron sing for the first time (spoiler alert: it's a good thing Russell usually sings), but it makes for a fun ditty, and the following "Mr. Bergman, How Are You?" does an entertaining job of depicting the attempts of the Hollywood executives to try and woo Bergman over. "The Studio Commissary" is a fun chance to namecheck a bunch of famous directors getting lunch over a vaudeville tune, "Autograph Hounds" has great interplay between the disorienting vocals and some intense synths, "Oh My God" (where Bergman asks for deliverance) is a decent emotional climax, and "Garbo Sings" (where Greta Garbo brings deliverance) is a great reprise of themes from earlier. Oh, and I guess that "He's Home" makes for a fitting, joyful ending.

For all of the good that this album provides, though, there are some fundamental flaws that are hard to escape. One of these is that, while we're clearly supposed to empathize with Bergman as he seeks refuge from the awfulness that is Hollywood, it's hard to tell exactly how he's been wronged here (well, aside from the weird teleportation kidnapping that kicks off the whole thing). Bergman really comes across as a prick, especially when he's on set (this sequence may or may not be in his mind, but then again the whole album may or may not be in his mind), and quite honestly I find myself siding with the Hollywood Studio Chief when he sings, "We've offered him the moon/Rejected us like goons/And all the while unfazed, his eyes were dull and glazed/But all that's in the past./He really has some gall/To turn us down at all/He really has some gall to turn us down at all/Is anyone that great?" near the end. If Ron and Russell meant for the listener to sympathize completely with Bergman, they didn't really succeed.

A second major problem comes from the baffling decision to make the English-language version available only as a digital download, with all 64 minutes contained within a single track. The provided rationale for this was essentially that they wanted people to have to listen to this as a whole, to treat it as a serious piece of art rather than a collection of individual tracks, but I find this explanation unsatisfying simply because musicals generally are broken up into individual tracks. This is a rare instance of the group taking itself much too seriously, and it's a little off-putting.

Despite these issues, though, I'd have to say that this is a decent album on the whole, and one that any serious Sparks fan should listen to two or three times. Yes, when Bergman solemnly intones near the end, "Thank you for listening to my story. You may be relieved to know the story is soon coming to an end" I find myself thinking "Damn straight," but it's a still very competent and well-crafted piece of work on the whole. I can't imagine wanting to listen to it more than two or three more times in my life, but I'm glad I listened to it as many times as I did.

 Exotic Creatures Of The Deep by SPARKS album cover Studio Album, 2008
3.50 | 18 ratings

Exotic Creatures Of The Deep
Sparks Crossover Prog

Review by tarkus1980
Prog Reviewer

4 stars The band's marketing strategy for promoting the release of this album was pretty brilliant as far as these things go. Around the time the band formally released the album, the band played a three week series of concerts in which the band played its albums from start to finish (one album per night, in chronological order), with a B-side or rarity as the encore, commencing in the grand live unveiling of Exotic (which by this point had been out for about three weeks) on the 21st night. The Sparks Spectacular, as of 2014, is not available in any form other than scattered Youtube videos, and it's not clear that it will ever be released, but if they ever got around to cleaning these tracks up for release I'd absolutely buy it and listen to the whole thing (even the lesser albums).

As often happens with cases where the promotional campaign is particularly inspired, the actual product being promoted is a slight letdown, even if it's got a lot of good material and is quite good on the whole. The biggest change with this album from the previous ones is that the remaining Lil' Beethoven elements from Hello Young Lovers are virtually wiped away; there's a lot of repetition in the vocal parts, but this repetition is much more conventional than on LB or some of the parts of HYL, and the instrumentation, while still based primarily in Ron's keyboards, rarely attempts the faux- orchestral sounds of yore. For all of the various eccentricities of this album, this is definitely a very normal album in comparison to what they'd done lately; Russell spends most of his time doing actual singing of actual vocal melodies, while Ron uses a variety of keyboard sounds that mostly sound pretty great. This isn't a good thing or a bad thing in and of itself, but I do suspect that the slightly higher concentration than usual of clearly second-rate material has at least some correlation to the lack of a unifying gimmick for the album. Again, it's a really good album on the whole, but it's definitely a clear step down from LB and HYL.

The best demonstration of the issues this album often has is "Strange Animal," which has some decent ideas that feel more like they were superglued to each other than made into a coherent song, and it makes for a pretty problematic 5:45. There are also a couple of tracks tucked near the end that, if they don't outright suck, are knocking on the door pretty hard. "The Director Never Yelled Cut" prominently features one of the least pleasant loops of Ron keyboards this side of "Let's Get Funky," and the verse melody is so oddly mechanical that I'm not sure why they ultimately decided it was a good idea to include it on the album. "Photoshop" sounds like a potential classic for about 15 seconds, but the combination of a great piano part and a tense Russell delivery ends up largely being wasted on a song where the central hook is the dumb chorus of "Photoshop me out of your life." I get that Ron was trying to update his "odd takes on dealing with exes" for the late 2000s, but this really ends up sounding like a stale variation of better attempts at this kind of writing.

The rest of the album is really good, though, and the highs are high enough to mostly overcome the low points. The first half starts and ends with "Intro" and "Intro Reprise," respectively, and they're a delightful bit of Russell harmonizing with himself around the great phrase, "I don't care if you love me, just so you like me" and wordless "aaah" sounds. Immediately following "Intro" comes "Good Morning," an amusing up-tempo song with Russell falsetto-singing about waking up with a woman that's way out his league and not understanding how this is possible, while Ron lays down a fantastic keyboard pattern on (electric?) piano and synths. The lyrics are full of silly lines, such as "While I fix you breakfast/I hope it's just your laugh that is infectious" or "Hey, where you going? Does dasvedonya really mean good morning?" and the alternation between the main groove and the "Thank you God for something rare as this ..." parts is quite nice. I also really dig the false ending.

"I Can't Believe That You Would Fall For All the Crap in This Song" and "Let the Monkey Drive" each boast their own great keyboard grooves with great vocal parts on top, with the former boasting a slower, more intense one and the latter boasting a quicker, snappier one. "I Can't Believe ..." ends up using a bunch of different synth tones, and there's a surprising amount of complexity in the details of what seems like a pretty simple track on first listen. "Let the Monkey Drive" is a rare instance of breaking out an orchestral patch (tucking it into the background mostly, but it's there), but the main attraction of the song is definitely the groove in the parts where the monkey is driving the car, and you'd better believe that I find myself doing response vocals to Russell's parts if nobody else is around.

The second half does have the surprising low points mentioned earlier, but it also has a bunch of really delightful material. "I've Never Been High" is a majestic anthemic ballad from its first moments, but it also has a rather interesting part in the middle where the chorus fragments into Russell repeatedly singing "I've never ah ah/I've never ah ah" before returning to the main part of the song. Lyrically, it's more or less a successor to "When Do I Get to Sing My Way?" in that it reflects on experiences never had, and the fact that he's never been high is hardly a point of celebration. Then it's off to the land of silly misogyny with "She Got Me (Pregnant)," a pseudo-ethnic (in the same way as "Goofing Off") song that's either about (a) an alternate reality in which women impregnate men and the man feeling angry about being used, or (b) the woman manipulating the man into getting her pregnant ... and the man feeling angry about being used. And best of all there's "Lighten Up, Morrissey," a guitar-heavy rocker about a guy who has difficulties with women because he's not as awesome as Morrissey. "She won't hang out with me, no, she won't hang out/'Til my biting wit bites like his/She won't hang out with me, no she won't hang out/'Til my quick retort's quick as his" is typical fare for the song, and I like the fact that, in the chorus, some of the iterations of the title end in a question mark (as if he's afraid to offend Morrissey by making such a request).

"This is the Renaissance" kinda sounds like a HYL leftover, what with the combination of the bombastic drums and the guitar using a tone that was pretty commonplace on that album, and it's basically a chance for Ron to write silly lyrics about the benefits of the Renaissance in relation to the Middle Ages. Sample lyric: "Science is here/Nothing left to fear/Though the Earth is flat/It's not as flat as we feared/Music's gone wild/No Gregorian here/Contrapuntal music is the music that your parents fear." It's not really an album highlight, but it's definitely not a lowlight either. And finally, just when it seems that the album has taken a pretty steep dive after "Lighten Up, Morrissey," the album closer "Likeable" redeems things more than a bit. It really seems like Ron is writing out a sad desperate fantasy here, where he easily gets along with everybody around him and everybody wants to be his friend. The song is energetic but angry and mournful, with Russell frequently using rhythmic speaking in a HYL manner over the hyperactive keyboard and guitar parts, and except for the semi-cheerful carnival music in the "No-one ever wears a frown ..." parts, the song really gives the sense of somebody yelling "I'M LIKEABLE! I'M LIKEABLE!" into a mirror before going outside to deal with society. The return to the "I don't care if you like me, just so you love me ..." parts from the beginning of the album is a nice touch as well.

The album's a bit of a mixed bag on the whole, yes, but there's so much really good material that I feel like this grade is justified. Given that Ron was well over 60 at this point and Russell was nearly as old, this album has to be considered a significant success by any reasonable standard. If you liked the last two albums you'll probably like this one, but be aware that it doesn't really sound the same.

Thanks to chris s for the artist addition. and to Quinino for the last updates

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