This weekend, Edgar Wright is releasing his first non-fiction feature film. “The Sparks Brothers” is about a phenomenal duo of musicians that have been working together for over fifty years. Ron and Russell Mael have released twenty five studio albums. To commemorate the documentary release, we want to present ten of our favorite albums from them. We hope that this list encourages you to check out some of Sparks’ music.
# 10 – Whomp That Sucker (1981)
As we start off our Sparks albums list, “Whomp That Sucker” is a nice start to the conversation. It is far from a perfect album, but the strength of its pure eighties synthesizers and amusing lyrics make it well worth the listen. The album kicks off with the phenomenal “Tips for Teens.” Are there any other songs out there that speak this frankly about puberty? Zits, growing out of old clothes, and worrying about first dates have never sounded this fun. An honorable mention of highlights from this album include the spacy “I Married A Martian” and the panicky “Where’s My Girl.”
# 9 – A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip (2020)
The opening track to “A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip” is a tribute to their fans. Russel Mael thanks the audience in “All That” for sticking with them through tough times and great times. However, this album can be a great introduction to the duo. “Onomato Pia” is a funny love song dedicated to someone who can only speak in “oohs” and “ahs.” “Self-Effacing” is classic Sparks as it “brags” about the singer’s dull and grey resume.
Overall, the album deserves a spot on this list not only on its own merits, but for the fact that even after five decades of work, they are still putting out top of the line work.
# 8 – Angst In My Pants (1982)
The Sparks 11th studio album serves as an interesting counterpoint to the conservatism of the eighties. Just look at this cover! The keyboardist is crossdressing in a wedding dress paired up with the lead singer, his brother. If that isn’t enough for you, check out the music video for the album’s single, the rock heavy “I Predict.” The B-side to the single is the hilarious “Moustache,” the singer praises all the monetary and surface level things about being a woman, but proves that he has all of them beat. He has a mustache that he has styled every which way, the bridge proudly declares “One hundred hairs make a man.”
# 7 – FFS (2015)
The eleventh track on “FFS” may be called “Collaborations Don’t Work,” but this album proves that is the furthest thing from the truth. In 2014, Sparks announced they will be teaming up with Scottish rock band Franz Ferdinand. The collaborative name being an acronym of the two bands that knowingly alludes to a profane exclamation. The album is great as it utilizes all the great minds in the studio with teary-eyed self realizations like “Johnny Delusional,” the tongue in cheek “Piss Off,” and the funky “The Man Without A Tan.” In any other collaboration, a band would lose their sense of identity in an attempt to compromise, but here the Sparks only get stronger when working with Franz Ferdinand.
# 6 – Hello Young Lovers (2006)
Sparks continued their winning streak with “Hello Young Lovers.” The album deepens their style from “Lil’ Beethoven” while still delivering top-tier lyrics. With yet another phenomenal opening track, “Dick Around” is an epic six and a half minute lamentation from a man who has lost his girlfriend. “Perfume,” “Waterproof” and “Metaphors” strengthen the body of the album as catchy songs with layered rhythms and powerful imagery. The album finishes up with “As I Sit Down to Play the Organ at the Notre Dame Cathedral,” a song that builds off of the styles established earlier while introducing a beautiful organ piece that will worm right into your ear.
“Hello Young Lovers” feels like one of the secret treasures of the 2000’s music scene today as each song is so catchy and lyrically exciting.
# 5 – Exotic Creatures of the Deep (2008)
In the late aughts, Sparks continued their winning streak with “Exotic Creatures of the Deep.” This album stands out for its construction as the hypnotic choir-led intro hints at the album’s themes. These songs are all about being liked, the last track is literally called “Likeable,” and our relationship with technology.
“Photoshop” deals with a sour relationship as the singer is amazed by the titular software and then implores his ex to remove him from their life. “Lighten Up, Morrissey” might be the hardest the Sparks have ever rocked as the drums are hit with maximum force, the guitar solos are beautiful, all while they poke fun at the polarizing frontman of The Smiths.
Could you really expect anything other than more weird and wonderful Sparks music with a cover that sees a monkey playing a piano with the band’s singer?
# 4 – Lil’ Beethoven (2002)
In 2000, the Sparks put out a pretty lackluster “Balls” that did not reach the charts in America, nor the UK. Their next album, “Lil’ Beethoven” saw them returning in peak form. The title of the album might tip off some listeners that this collection of songs are classically influenced, but they still remained plugged into the current culture.
The first song on the album, “The Rhythm Thief” has swirling strings, a dangerously catchy hook, and electronically assisted sampling that layers into a jaw dropping and intricate song. “My Baby’s Taking Me Home” is a musical exploration of “semantic satiation” – an experiment where a phrase is repeated so often that it almost loses all sense of meaning. This song seems to disprove that theory as each repeat of the lyric “My baby’s taking me home” conjures up new feelings in the listener and is an addictive experience.
“Lil’ Beethoven” is a bridge into a new millennium that sees Sparks embracing the past and present. By doing so, they create a collection of songs that will stand the test of time.
# 3 – No. 1 In Heaven (1979)
Sparks were giving audiences the music of the eighties in the seventies with “No. 1 In Heaven.” Ron and Russel teamed up with Italian musician Giorgio Moroder to use synthesizers to build on top of the rock band sound they had been building with previous albums. With only 6 tracks, it is a condensed album that doubles down on the duo’s strengths.
The fourth single, “Beat the Clock,” tells the story of a person sprinting through life, “Entered school when I was two | PhD’d that afternoon.” “Academy Award Performance” blinds the listener with polished and shiny synths as Russel coaches you on how to deliver on the song title promise.
This album is 33 minutes of Sparks excellence and if you are a fan of synth-pop, this album paved the path and deserves all tributes.
# 2 – Propaganda (1974)
Sparks fourth studio album remains a high watermark for their charm and irreverent lyricism. “Something for the Girl with Everything” is a hilarious tale of a man smothering his girlfriend with gifts in hopes of burying any suspect of infidelity, “Have another sweet my dear | Don’t try to talk my dear | Your tiny little mouth is full.” “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth” is a strong ballad that pleads the listeners to strengthen their consciousness about the environment. The song is disarmingly sincere while still retaining lyric ingenuity.
All together, “Propaganda” is a strong foundation for where the Sparks would go in the future and remains a great piece of pop rock.
# 1 – Kimono My House (1974)
And to finish up this list of the Top 10 Sparks Albums is their commercial breakthrough, “Kimono My House.” Their third studio album is a phenomenal work of pop rock as they started to move away further from their fully rock sensibilities of the previous albums. The lead single, “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” showcases Russel’s falsetto as he faces off against a competing man for the affections of a girl. The B-side, “Barbecutie” has a phenomenal bass line that is as exciting as the bass from Harry Nilsson’s “Jump into the Fire.”
The cover has also been held in high regard as a mix of withholding and titillating as the geishas have smeared makeup on but are photographed with a matter of factness. The great music and eye catching cover made a definite impact on audiences as the album reached #4 on the UK Album Charts. It is by far the most important album for Sparks and one that should not be ignored.
Top 10 Sparks Albums article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021
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