Sparks, the terpsichorean muses

Well, it had to happen — after a string of good enough netcasts on a technical front (not perfect, but still pretty fine), for Pulling Rabbits Out of a Hat the jury-rig that was put together via after the cdpulse feed went down was, to put it kindly, a mess. They were able to get the video together after some fits and starts but the audio was *ugly* — a heavily-reverbed mess.

A pity because the show seemed like another delight, and since I think it’s one of the stronger eighties albums it would have been great to get things clear. The cdpulse site is still down and if they’re going to go via again then I can only hope that the two day break has been enough to figure out the audio problem.

Today’s show, however it’s shown, is definitely for one of the weaker albums — in fact we’re about to go into another interesting stretch where I’m hoping to see what a revisit does in terms of revivifying the songs for a fallow period. Both Music That You Can Dance To and, more especially, Interior Design were often Sparks on autopilot, working through then-common styles with very little to show for it, though with a couple of good songs that are worth the salvaging from each. I’m thinking that the performances will be more on the Terminal Jive level instead of Introducing, but one can always hope!

As before, the final version of this appeared in the second part of this Arthur issue:


It may be pushing the parallels a bit, but Music That You Can Dance To is most nearly equivalent to The Big Beat in terms of Sparks’s eighties versus seventies career – namely, the point where things were definitely starting to curdle more after a generally strong string of releases. The core band remained on board and inspired moments weren’t absent by any means, but compared to the eighties incarnation’s previous albums, this, its fifth and final one, felt more like a collection of songs that filled out an album, with low points starting to outstrip the higher ones.

Those high points are enjoyable enough, admittedly – they include “Change,” a huge-sounding, epically lovelorn yet ultimately positive ballad that also served as the first recorded introduction of Russell’s speaking rather than singing verses, something he’s since done at least once per album ever since, and “Modesty Plays,” originally conceived of as a theme song for a proposed Modesty Blaise TV series. Aside from a couple of moments beyond that, though – though the execution of “The Scene” is flawed, in its multipart structure there’s at least some ambition – the band was starting to sound a little stranded, as what previously had been a more energetic and modern sound for Sparks started to sound shopworn and clichéd. In particular, a cover of Stevie Wonder’s classic “Fingertips” sounded far too much like the dull horrors of so many other washed-out Motown remakes from any number of sixties burnouts during the Reagan years. As a result for the first time Sparks were starting to show their age – a state of mind that they weren’t yet going to escape for a little while, though at least calling the most trudging song on the album “Let’s Get Funky” showed humor was far from absent.

As a weird final note, the album was re-released on CD as The Best of Sparks, a thoroughly inaccurate take on the contents and as appropriate a name as Introducing Sparks was a decade earlier. Caveat emptor, and then some.


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