21 January 2006

Hello, Young Lovers

You ever have a band that you just don't get at first, and then, all of a sudden, it just clicks, and you just Get It, and it just makes so much sense?

That's recently happened with me -- and the band is Sparks. It's really strange -- the first time I'd heard them was when my SO bought the In Outer Space album, as she'd had it before, but lost it; Silver Platters had a copy for a decent price, so she picked it up again, and on the way back from the store, she put it in the car CD player.

And, um, I didn't get it. It was one of the albums from the Moroder-era, and I wasn't really sure what to make of the absurd, silly lyrics, and the over-the-top cheeziness of the arrangements. Some of it I kind of liked (The funny "I Wish I Looked A Little Better"), but for the most part, I just didn't get it -- my reaction was something like, "Wait a minute; these guys are considered "real" music, but Barnes & Barnes are a novelty band?"

This kicked off a bit of a Sparks phase with her (she'd always been into them, but her interest had been renewed), and she started picking up the other albums when she'd come across them -- mostly the Oglio reissues of the 1980s stuff, but the occasional UK Import release of the Island albums from the 1970s. And I'd listen to them, and I'd slowly get a bit more acclimated to Russell's falsetto, and the goofy lyrics, but I still didn't quite get it. After all, this was the band that gave DEVO David Kendrick, who played on DEVO's worst records and was one of the reasons I didn't like those albums (he can't hold a candle to Alan Meyers). But, I wouldn't necessarily mind when she'd throw them in.

The Sparks phase continued when she bought the two DVDs they've put out. Live In London was Oh-kay -- I lost interest about halfway through, but I loved Ron's bits, and I thought the song "(When I Kiss You) I Hear Charlie Parker Playing" was magnificent -- I figured if I was going to get a Sparks record, it'd probably be the one that one was on. But I didn't. And a few weeks later, she brought over Li'l Beethoven: Live In Stockholm, and we watched the Li'l Beethoven half.

And then it happened.

The first half of the album was OK, but I didn't get why it was so completely repetitive -- it started to bore me. I'd heard "The Rhythm Thief" and "Suburban Homeboy" before on the Sparks MySpace Page (by the way -- what does it say that I wasn't able to find it using the myspace search, but it immediately came up on Google, huh? I think that's one of the reasons I prefer LJ and Blogger...). "Rhythm Thief" was OK, and, well, I loved "Suburban Homeboy", and that was the only reason I wanted to continue watching. But as it went on, I just kept feeling sort of bored and confused as to why she liked this stuff so much.

Again, this is when it happened. More immediately this time.

Mainly, the song "My Baby's Taking Me Home". The noise in my brain audibly went Click, and I became a Sparks Fan. The rest of the stuff lined up, and I realized that they ARE a great act. And the amazing thing is that it's one of the most repetitive songs on Li'l Beethoven -- aside from the recitation, the only lyrics are the title repeated. Over and over. And over and over. And over and over.

Home. Home. Home. My baby's taking me home. My baby's taking me home. Home. My Baby's Taking Me Home.

And it just clicked.

The melody, the panning of Russel's vocals. Everything.

And then the recitation, which is one of the moments of Sparks Perfection.

As we walk through the morning rain / And the skies are clearing / And the streets are glistening / Streets named for New England trees / A rainbow forms / But we're both colorblind / But we can hear what others can't hear / We can hear the sound of a chorus singing

The combination of the poignant and beautiful lyrics of the first half with the hilarious, faux-pretentiousness of the second half is just amazing; it's a perfect mix of the beautiful and Real with a sly sense of humor that allows for commenting on the structure of the pop song and the banality of recitations in songs in general while actually still saying something that's not to be discounted at the sake of the joke.

And I realize how odd it is to say that the recitation is one of the best parts of the song -- usually that only happens if the song is overblown and schmaltzy enough as it is, and the recitation just nudges it over the edge into Cornball Hilarity (like, say, "You Look So Good In Love" by George Strait). But in this song -- it's not the case. The song is a simple statement -- a simple feel, an emotional place, and the recitation says so much about that, both in the context of the song itself and music in general. It's a wonderful sentiment about that feeling of being in love in addition to a puncturing of pop cliches. It takes a deft talent to do both of those things at once (one of the few examples I can think of is Frank Zappa's "Love Of My Life" from the Crusin' With Ruben And The Jets album, which can be read both ironically as a deconstruction of the banality of R&B lyrics and non-ironically as a sweet, pop, love song... though I think Zappa might disagree with me on the latter) -- usually one counteracts the other. But not here.

So, anyway -- that did it. I ended up listening to that stuff again, and the other albums made Sense. They're not all great (Terminal Jive and Pulling Rabbits Out Of A Hat have their moments, but the lyrical spark isn't as pronounced and they tend to come off more as good, but generic dancepop albums), but when they're on -- they're on. I am particularly fond of their most recent stuff (Balls is a great album, and Li'l Beethoven clicks with me know, repetition and all), and I am awaiting their new record, Hello, Young Lovers with baited breath -- it's one of the many that comes out on February 6th (though in the US on March 7, apparently).

I Am A Sparks Fan.


Blogger CatsFive said...

I know this isn't really relevant, being such an old band and all, but the Blue Oyster Cult was like this for me. I'll never forget it. I was in college and Lee sent me a tape. He kept emailing me saying, "Do you like it, yet?" and I was like, uh.... no... and then suddenly, it all hit me one day like it was A DIFFERENT TAPE. Like, *LITERALLY*, between the last time I gave it a try and this time, someone had sneaked into my dorm room and replaced the tape. It was INSTANT "I get it."

I have this Sparks album and like it OK.

12:08 AM, January 22, 2006  
Blogger Rev. Syung Myung Me said...

It's always really weird when that sort of thing happens. A similar thing happened with Belle & Sebastian for me. First time I heard them, I was in High School, and I was all "urgh, what is this crap?" and I went for a long time just HATING Belle & Sebastian. Then, I saw them on Conan donig "I'm Waking Up To Us" and I was all "Well, what the hell, that was actually REALLY GOOD" and now I've got all the records.

Björk, too -- I couldn't stand her for a really long time, but I bought Volumen because her music videos ARE amazing, and I always figured I could just watch it on mute or something. And then, I discovered that... I actually started liking that stuff, even musically. And so I bought a record (Post)... and I liked that a lot too. So, again, I bought all the records. (Though I thought Drawing Restraint 9 was pretty lousy.)

9:27 AM, January 22, 2006  
Blogger Lee H. said...

Well, I remember the first time i heard the Velvet Underground, I was about 13 and borrowed "White Light/White Heat" from a friend... I was COMPLETELY freaked out by it, and hated it. Then when I was about 18, I heard VU again, and have been in thrall to them ever since. Not quite the same thing, since it involved me growing up, but that's the closest I can think of.

7:39 PM, January 23, 2006  

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