Sparks slip on the design front

It’s been a week of strange technical screwups — on the one hand the cdpulse feed was still down yesterday, resulting in another fairly choppy broadcast on; on the other hand, the mael-list went down because of a power outage here at UCI (and is still not quite back). That would do it.

What could be seen of yesterday’s performance was pretty good, though the creaks evident in Music That You Could Dance To were all the more plain. Still, it was nice seeing a performance on the ‘lost’ track from the album “Armies,” which was replaced on the CD version of the disc in 1990 by “Change,” which was the encore this time around.

Anyway, the cdpulse site is back up, but perversely enough it is just in time for the run-through of a Sparks nadir. Interior Design‘s problems I discuss in the draft below, but suffice to say that I’m wondering what they’ll be able to do to conjure up the magic out of this one — still, I’ve heard a reasonable argument that it’s meant to be Sparks at their most lushly romantic, though honestly the technology and approach they were working with at the time undercut that potential impact, or so I thought. You’ll have to decide!

But so things aren’t completely negative here, Steven Listor’s blog update on the shows contains this fascinating nugget:

[Russell]’s been singing spot on every night. I’ve taken for granted the fact that Russell not only sings all of these song in their original keys and with the same energy he has 20 years ago, but that we’ve been rehearsing every day since January 1 and he hasn’t blown his voice out. Amazing!

The man just has it.

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


If Music That You Can Dance To was the decline, Interior Design was the fall, equaling Introducing Sparks as a well-meaning but ultimately troubled low point for the Maels. In retrospect, it’s clear that this is an album that’s not important for what it is rather than what it represented – namely, the first effort fully created by Ron and Russell in the comfort of their newly completed studio, nicknamed the Pentagon and built in the Hollywood Hills mansion that their wayward success over the years had allowed them to purchase, and where nearly all their subsequent albums have been recorded.

The fact that this is the most notable thing about Interior Design, though, tends to indicate the quality of the album as a whole. No longer working with their eighties backing band of Bob Haag, Leslie Bohem and David Kendrick, the Maels had a few flashes of their trademark wit and melodic gift at play, but nowhere near their previous heights. “So Important,” the leadoff track, is the most notable number, and even that is pretty subpar, while “Madonna” is a sly enough tribute to an artist who, frankly, was completely cleaning Sparks’s clock at that point. Beyond that and some surprisingly confessional lyrics from a band not really known for them, there’s not much else, and the whole thing is practically a stereotype of what is sneeringly dismissed as ‘eighties music,’ with rote rhythms and fairly dull melodies that – crucially for a group so often perfect at it – aren’t catchy in the slightest. At best Interior Design should be seen as a home demo record that didn’t deserve the release – it’s there, but it’s not needed.


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