Sparks in SPAAAAAAAAAACE

Another quick post here, I’ll get back to more detailed thoughts tomorrow!

Yesterday’s feed was among the choppiest yet, sadly enough, but the show looked great, Angst In My Pants given a full live runthrough made an already fantastic album sing even more. And having the encore be “Minnie Mouse” seemed only appropriate!

So today is In Outer Space, not a bad album but not one I regularly go back to though there are some spectacular tracks on it, so I’m hoping for a Big Beat/Introducing level show tonight where the whole thing is pepped up. It’d be interesting to see if Jane Wiedlin came out for her two songs but I’m guessing not — still, would be a fun touch!

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:

IN OUTER SPACE

Sparks finally got their first – and so far, their only – American top forty success with the lead song on this album, “Cool Places,” though it certainly didn’t hurt that it was actually a duet between Russell and Jane Wiedlin, then riding the peak of her own fame as one of the Go-Gos. It wasn’t an inappropriate pairing at all, though, given that Wiedlin was herself a Sparks fan since the seventies – she also appeared later on the album with “Lucky Me Lucky You” – and the resultant single, if one of the Maels’ most straightforward compositions (especially lyrically) is still a fun kick.

It’s also one of the most straight-up synth-pop style numbers the band had yet recorded – even drummer David Kendrick sounds more like a drum machine than Keith Forsey had done back on the late seventies albums – and reflects In Outer Space as a whole, with a number of songs being practically guitarless (Bob Haag notably is credited with playing guitar synthesizers as well as his chosen instrument), though the core backing quartet remained unchanged from Angst. Possibly the Maels, producing themselves for the first time since the misfire of Introducing, wanted to experiment a bit more with other approaches without specifically repeating the Moroder albums. Happily it’s an experiment that works, and a new slew of Sparks highlights were the result – “Popularity,” a dryly hilarious portrayal of hip young things out on the town, and its brilliant lyrical flipside “I Wish I Looked a Little Better” are both winningly-sung and performed electronic pop at its best, an enjoyable tip of the hat to groups like Depeche Mode and Bronski Beat, among others, who had worn out their copies of No. 1 in Heaven long before.

That said In Outer Space can be a bit too stiff for its own good – a song like “Prayin’ for a Party” tries to replicate the monster stomp of “I Predict” without as much success. Add in some more timekilling lyrics and arrangements at points – “Please, Baby, Please,” despite a few good lines, sounds scarily MOR towards the end – and this isn’t a start to finish winner like Angst. But it’s still one of the band’s finer efforts, and any album with songs (and songtitles) like “All You Ever Think About Is Sex” (“All right with me!”) and “A Fun Bunch of Guys From Outer Space” has its snarky heart in the right place.

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