From Ira Kantor
You are instantly captivated by the album’s opening notes – a keyboard ostinato that sounds like something out of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus.
A few seconds later you will hear a voice that is not immediately recognizable to the human ear. It’s an unprecedented falsetto and you’re trying to imagine if it’s a man singing … or maybe a woman?
Then the cheering sentence sounds: “This city is not big enough for both of us … and it’s not me who is leaving!” Suddenly a musical shot sounds that embodies the kind of animal rush described in the previous verse. Hard rock meets glamor.
You’re asking yourself two things at the same time: “What the hell is this?” and then: “That could be the greatest thing I’ve ever heard!”
Either way, what the band Sparks performs is completely original. Even if front man Russell Mael, who sings the words “This town is not big enough for the two of us two”, is meant with a wink, the idea behind the sentence can be taken seriously; that the music industry probably isn’t ready (and maybe never will be) for this group – one equally ahead of its time and a helium-powered cabaret band. As soon as Russell gets the final Banshee whimper of “LEAAAAVVVVEEE !!!!” They are convinced that the Vikings will peak in Walhalla.
Sparks’ Breakout and Breakout album, 1974 Kimono my house is an eye-catcher in every way. This opening song is one of the best that has ever opened an album. The cover apparently makes visual fun of the model-heavy beauties that adorn Roxy Music covers. And then there is the group itself. After making the leap from Halfnelson and two albums to a musical conundrum that cannot easily be pigeonholed, Russell and brother Ron (lead lyricist and keyboardist) group themselves with new musicians and a new takeover attitude. Getting her to the charts may not be easy, but it sure does get her out in front of an audience, however amazed the fans may be.
Go ahead, check out some of these great 1970s Music store or Top of the Pops Recordings. What do you see? Roger Daltrey’s unacknowledged half-brother moves so much that you firmly believe he’s going to fall off the stage (Russell)? A mix of Charlie Chaplin and Adolf Hitler with a cat that has eaten the canary grin that both fascinates and scares (Ron)?
Is there a group you can compare Sparks from the same era to? Sure, singers like Bryan Ferry and David Bowie had no qualms about showing courage and posing on tracks like “Virginia Plain” or “Moonage Daydream”. But do they exude the intensity of Russell Mael (or Ron Mael’s total lack of intensity in that regard)? Sure, bands like Queen defined the concept of exaggerated musicality (“Bohemian Rhapsody” anyone?), But their mission was to completely rip apart the musical aesthetic and commercialism and rework them into art that turned out to be alien, but no less beautiful was heard?
Kimono my house‘Sparks’ first album for Iceland, evokes these thoughts. It’s somewhere in the Marlene Dietrich and the Doors spectrum. Between Russell Mael’s majestic, ball-grabbing vocals and Ron Mael’s upbeat piano / keyboard melodies that are unleashed as stoically as possible, you will find yourself in an adventure with this masterpiece. With the film director Edgar Wright, who again exposes the world to the world with his new documentary Sparks, The spark brothers, the time has come to dive back in kimono and remind me (and you) why it’s an underrated classic.
Let’s go back to This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Us Both Of Us Both for a moment. We can’t overlook the track’s other notable musical elements: a booming bass (courtesy of Martin Gordon) and driving drums from Norman “Dinky” Diamond that keep the intensity going for the three minutes of the track. The Mael brothers would claim that there was no room for others, but that would not prevent others from getting to them. This song would ultimately prove to be Sparks’ biggest hit and climbed to number 2 in the UK
Other great ones kimono Songs include:
- “Amateur Hour” – Based on the circus mentality described above, this is a delightful frolic that destroys the standard for relationship songs. You have to laugh and admire anyone who has the persistence to sing with pride, “She can show you what to do to be more like people than you!”
- “Falling In Love With Myself Again” – This is narcissism to which you can waltz and especially when you think Russell Mael’s voice cannot go higher; he pulls it off. The same applies to the later rocker “Hasta Manana, Monsieur”.
- “Here In Heaven” – Here we have a thunderstorm of sound until Russell Mael falsetto the track that would make the Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz cry in awe. “In My Family” comes second in this area.
- “Thank god it’s not Christmas” – this is the definition of anti-pop. With just one listen, you can immediately imagine Santa Claus throwing the presents down the chimney and coming out of the cottage.
- “Talent is an Asset” and “Complaints” – both emphasize that the band is not afraid of making apparent detours into the world of music theater, even if their calling card is more pop-rock.
Side note: For those who make it through this listening experience, I would also like to recommend two more formative albums in the Sparks discography:
- propaganda (1974) – That is essentially Kimonos Continued in everything except the title (hey, if it ain’t broken don’t fix it!). Highlights include the ballad (I think …) “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth” and the “Amateur Hour” -like “Something For The Girl With Everything”.
- No. 1 in heaven (1979) – This is arguably the band’s second largest album, largely due to the fact that disco hitmaker Giorgio Moroder is helping the Maels keep up with the times. In equal parts crazy and hypnotic, this album features outstanding tracks like “La Dolce Vita”, “My Other Voice” and essentially the album’s title track, the trance-like “The Number One Song In Heaven”. Rumor has it that Ian Curtis and Joy Division had this song on a loop when they put together Love With Tear Us Apart. If that doesn’t make Sparks fully viable, I don’t know what it’s doing!