Getting terminal with Sparks

The No 1 in Heaven set on Sunday was my personal highlight of the series so far — as I raved on about, I pretty much think it’s one of the best albums ever made, and I freely admit to happily dancing about my apartment the entire time of the show, for good reason. Russell was rocking a Gary Numan-circa-Telekon-as-a-Wall-Street-trader look (and doing so very well) while Ron brought back his 1979 era haircut. By sticking to a faithful replication of the instrumentation — keyboards, drums and vocals — but by also taking advantage of technology for reproducing that live these days, the result was a damn fine treat. The crowd clearly was riding a major high, and I admit if there’s any one show I would have loved to be at, that was it.

Before continuing further I’d like to note that said drummer, Stephen Nistor, has been blogging on the whole series via Billboard, with some great stories already appearing. They also kindly linked over to Arthur and my discography, so thanks!

Speaking of said discography — so Terminal Jive is up today and even more than The Big Beat and Introducing Sparks, this is where a lot of people wondered what the hell was going on. I have a feeling this was essentially a classic example of a too-rushed follow-up to a brilliant album, as can easily happen, and my draft below, which is really almost the same as the final published version outside of a quick change of wording here and there, says more on the matter. I’ll be interested to see what they do with this one — a quick relisten of the album today confirms that it’s a stumbler, so I’ll be intrigued to see if they can do something with it to make it more memorable, as they readily did with Introducing Sparks. But if this turns out to be the flattest evening in the end, I really won’t be surprised. (And I’m going to be REALLY surprised if they actually play the instrumental version of “When I’m With You.)

As has been the case from the start, the final version of the piece below is in the second part of this Arthur issue, while tonight’s show is accessible here:


The artistic and commercial success of No. 1 in Heaven boded well for the follow-up next year, Terminal Jive. Again produced by Moroder, though this time also with his regular studio assistant Harold Faltermeyer, it almost suggested there’d be a run of records capturing a time and place like the Island/glam era releases did, and hopefully with similar amounts of fame and fortune, as the Maels had demonstrated not only that their brand of pop ears and lyrical invention still appealed but could do so in more than one musical setting.

That didn’t turn out to be the case, though. Going back to guitar heavily on a number of songs meant that in ways the band invented the Electric Six given the omnipresent Moroder/Forsey beats – the title “Rock’n’Roll People in a Disco World” says it all – but everything felt a little more strident and timekilling all around. Some fans give a bit of love to “Young Girls,” though to be perfectly honest it’s actually just a touch creepy – and given some of the songs they’d written up until then, that’s saying something! As one Moroder fiend once commented, this is an album that actually would make a great EP.

There’s one big highlight, though: “When I’m With You,” a beautiful love song with a gorgeous chorus, just a bit of guitar snarl to add to the trademark Moroder/Forsey beats, and another example, like “The Number One Song in Heaven,” where a bit of meta proves a perfect touch: “It’s the break on the song/When I should say something special…” It was a massive French hit in particular and further added to Sparks’s reputation as helping kick-start the synth-pop era without intending it. The fact, however, that the band had to fill out the album’s length with an alternate instrumental version of said hit gives an idea as to how inspiration was sadly running a bit low again. But as with Introducing, Sparks rebounded from here and then some.


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