April 04, 2006

With all the rappity rap rap rapness dominating last week's release schedule (as well as some blah blah blahs) we neglected to mention a much needed dose of pop weirdness from the long-running eccentric brother combo Sparks. To recognize the release of Hello Young Lovers and repentanize our omission, here is our Gen F on the duo that appears in FADER 37 on stands....now. Cram the words into your brain after the jump.

Now For Something Different

Sparks won’t have what you’re having

By Eric Ducker

Deep in West Hollywood in the late morning of a late January day, brothers Ron and Russell Mael sit amongst the beauties on the patio of film industry fueling station Urth Café. Their blazers, thick-rimmed glasses and actual wrinkles make them look like they’ve strayed too far from the Pacific Design Center, but they seem perfectly comfortable as they drink their iced tea and cappuccino. Calmly and quietly, the two permanent members of the band Sparks consider whether they see themselves as a Los Angeles band. “I don’t think we feel like we’re of any place at all really,” says younger brother Russell. Which, of course, is a totally Los Angeles way to feel.

Songwriter/keyboardist Ron and singer Russell were born in LA in the mid-20th century and aside from three years in England, they have lived in this city their entire lives. Yet even in the early ’70s when they were beginning their music careers, they never fit in. “We played the Whiskey, so we’d support bands like Little Feat and Edgar Winter, who are all credible musical people, but it wasn’t at all what we were doing,” explains Ron. “We wanted to be more like the Who.”

Each of their 20 albums has witnessed some form of reinvention of the band’s sound, but—most famously—early work like Kimono My House combined power pop with proto-glam, and the Giorgio Moroder-produced No. 1 In Heaven from 1979 brought a disco turn. “We’ve always had faith, and maybe it’s naïve faith, that when people hear what we are doing, they are going to go for it,” says Ron. Sparks’s new album Hello Young Lovers can only, and obviously, be described as operatic. A self-produced effort that was recorded over two years in Russell’s home studio, it’s crammed to the edges with words and instruments and hooks and harmonies and falsettos and shredding guitars and ornate harpsichords and soul horns and tension strings and strange metaphors and songs about metaphors and boasts and betrayals and observations and pontifications and tricks and hassles. Yet underneath the expansive, multi-part compositions are what have become Sparks trademarks: pop genius, lyrics that search for drama in the mundane, and a penchant for the theatrical. No other band this smart can sound so fantastically ridiculous. “There’s a whole thing that singer-songwriters are on a higher plane than people in bands,” says Russell. “It’s the idea that they’re baring their soul somehow,” Ron continues. “There’s all kinds of ways of baring your soul that maybe aren’t as obvious.”

Posted: April 04, 2006