Sparks, angst and pants

Full day here so just to say that Wednesday’s show was great and seeing as how Angst is even a better album, today’s show should be spectacular!

As before, the final version of the piece below is in the second part of this Arthur issue, while tonight’s show is accessible here:

ANGST IN MY PANTS

The Kimono My House to Whomp’s Sparks/Woofer, Angst in My Pants consolidated the strengths of Sparks’s early eighties incarnation into a smash commercial success – at least within a certain context. At this point Sparks were near gods in their hometown of Los Angeles at long last, establishing themselves as firm favorites on KROQ and attracting massive crowds in the area. But like one of their many indirect descendants Oingo Boingo, this didn’t translate into a national success – a pity, since in many ways it was one of the group’s playfully daring releases, hinted at with one of their best album covers, Russell dressed as a groom in a spangled suit while Ron played the blushing bride.

With keyboardist James Goodwin added to the group and Mack following up on his Whomp production duties, Angst starts out with one of the Maels’ all time best, the title track. Russell sounds downright sad and desperate in the opening words of each verse as well as the chorus, and the bite of the lyrics (“You can be smart as hell, know how to add/Know how to figure things on yellow pads”), not to mention the pun of the title, doesn’t hide the sheer frustration he slyly captures, the sharp, stripped down arrangement shot through with low synth moans. It’s a striking starting point and the rest of the album lives up to it, ranging from the proto-industrial stomp of “I Predict” – deep electronic bass lines set against psychic parody lines like “Somebody’s going to die/But I can’t reveal who” – to the John Barry/Ennio Morricone tribute of “Nicotina,” which makes the simple act of smoking a cigarette seem like apocalypse. Quite why longtime Sparks freak Mike Patton hasn’t covered this yet is a mystery.

The giddy, almost epic ‘let’s go out and hit the town’ spirit of “Sextown USA” and the explosive (and deeply hilarious) “Moustache” were also among the winners, while the murky melodies and rolling drums of “Sherlock Holmes” and “Tarzan and Jane” further shows that the stage-show musical heart of the Maels was still strong, if somewhat sublimated. If there’s an established fan favorite beyond the singles, though, it might well be “Mickey Mouse,” the Maels’ merry celebration of their long-running Disney fascination made manifest. It’s a bit surprising that the Disney monolith didn’t try and sue the song out of existence for copyright violations, but such is the weird nature of multinationals.

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