Sparks: Exotic Creatures Of The Deep

Sparks: Exotic Creatures Of The Deep

 

Nearly four decades and 21 albums in, Sparks remains cultishly admired by a small group: Its unlikely fan base includes everyone from Bette Midler to Morrissey to Jim O'Rourke, and it's widely celebrated in the UK, but ignored nearly everywhere else. Unlike most long-term survivors, the duo—brothers Ron and Russell Mael—is nearly as essential and inventive now as when it started. Sparks' last two albums built songs around keyboards and vocals in minimalist 8- and 16-bar loops; Exotic Creatures Of The Deep features verses and choruses and only repeats each line once, which counts as relatively accessible. As usual, the Mael brothers divide their lyrical time between situational non sequiturs ("This Is The Renaissance" announces "If you like to read, then you are in luck") and dark-hearted jokes less absurd than they seem; "Let The Monkey Drive" depicts a couple so eager to consummate their love that they'd let a primate steer the car while they fumble in the back seat, which isn't so far from Crash. "Strange Animal" dives head-on into the problem of why most people have no use for Sparks: "This song lacks a heart," their critic sings, "comes off overly smart / an emotional core / ain't that what songs are for?" Sparks' answer, as ever: not necessarily. Songs are also for ingenious, multi-harmonized arrangements for two brothers bright enough to constitute their own keyboard orchestra and choir, telling one mordant joke after another without ever wearing out the punchlines.

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