Sparks - A Woofer in Tweeter's Clothing

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2 dec 2009, 11:25



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http://suburbanhomeboy.wordpress.com/
That is my blog where I put album reviews as well as other miscellaneous posts I like it better than last.fm journal but I stay here as well because I'm just that generous.

A Woofer in Tweeter's Clothing is a huge step up from Sparks, even though I guess technically not much has changed. They have found a bigger, more assured sound, and much more variety in styles. Russell is less adolescent-sounding, and he finds a few new voices to play with, but mostly the songs are just better. And here they all are in their majesty and weird:

Girl From Germany

It's just on the edges of commercial-friendly musically, but have to somehow get by the stretchy, affected vocals and painfully chipper, whistly chorus to see that this song is a real lyrical gem. Somehow it feels funny to call it a song about racism, but it really is, all about this guy seeing a German chick but whose parents can't deal with the post-war trauma.

Oh, no! Bring her home and the folks look ill
My word, they can't forget, they never will
They can hear the stormtroops on our lawn
When I show her in
And the Fuehrer is alive and well
In our panelled den ...


It kind of edges around both being a joke and being serious, like the best of their songs do. Ron has gone on record saying he thinks that pretty much everything is funny, and I guess it's that that lets their songs about suicide pacts, the threat of child abuse, racism, senility and so on be so endlessly entertaining and somehow very rarely offensive.

Well, the car I drive is parked outside
It's German-made
They resent that less than the people
Who are German-made


Beaver O'Lindy

A confused, unstable mess of male puberty that I have recently been informed is about masturbation, which at least explains the I'm the girl in your head but the boy in your bed line. It flicks from lethargic waltz to seriously heavy distorted guitar and frenzied drumming to hyperactive cheerleader chorus in I think their most extraordinarily bipolar moment, beating out even Dick Around 34 years later. It's an inspired transition, followed by some fooling around between speeds for a while, and then back to the bizarre B-E-A-V-E-R-O-L-I-N-D-Y of the chorus. I have to be really paying attention to and actively appreciating this song to enjoy it, otherwise it gets on my nerves in no small way.

Nothing Is Sacred

This song is about immortality, and how much it would suck.

Adding some of this to some of that
Madame Science wins again
We are now forever people
We'll outlive our will to live


Most of the lyrics are nothing is sacred any more, and the song goes on and on and on and on in much the same way that this song portrays an immortal life. It sounds very much like a song from Halfnelson, from the guitar-and-drums foundation with piano extras to Russell's loopy-loop falsetto. It's got a neat bassline, probably the best part of the whole song, except for maybe the frantic outro, which makes the long wait through the rest of the song worthwhile.

Here Comes Bob

When I spot a driver worth a second glance
Foot to floorboard, impact soon achieved
Here comes Bob!
I ain't subtle in my ways of making friends


One of those ideas so out there I don't really know what to say about it and cannot guess where it came from. Basically a gorgeous piano and string arrangement around the concept that some guy doesn't know how to make friends, so goes about it by crashing his car into other vehicles. Notable for an incredible all-but-breathless section in the middle which builds up in intensity and he has actually achieved live:

Sometimes I'll stoop to hitting
Two-door coupes without the frills
But that's just for casual acquaintances,
For stripped-down thrills
Your car, girl? or mine?
It doesn't matter, doesn't matter, no
But for affairs with staying power
I go after limousines
It's always nice if something big
Is acting as your go-between
And for group encounters I'll hit buses,
Mobile homes, or trains to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


The song has so much charisma it's ridiculous; I almost start thinking that it could be a pretty good idea. The way he announces himself he is so confident and proud of himself. And there's a real gift somewhere in this band for string arrangements, one I feel was extremely under-used in the early years. In all years, really. The string arrangements on Plagiarism of songs from Kimono My House and Propaganda rival the originals, even for This Town. Ah well, none of that can ever stop me from loving this song, so I guess it's all good.

Moon Over Kentucky

First five-star song Sparks made. Comes out of nowhere, especially after Here Comes Bob, like nothing they had done before and nothing they have done since. Darkly mysterious, sinister, heavy guitar, deep bass, simple, incredibly effective keyboard and pounding drums and Russell giving the vocal performance of his life with eerie tuneful wails and dark pronouncements such as:

I heard somewhere that they're stamping,
Trampling all upon you
Your pocked face remains impassive
Though I know it hurts you

Moon over Kentucky
Take me with you
Full moon over Kentucky
Leave this mooring
And seek some new rendezvous

Cut your ties with this possessive mother, she'll destroy you
Cut your ties and find another one who will respect you


Co-written by Ron Mael and Jim Mankey, it totally rocks, especially towards the end where the vocals stay the same and the music just gradually edges up and over it. I have simply never heard anything like it, especially not from nineteen seventy bloody two.

Do-Re-Mi

Starts out mildly, ramps up hugely. I don't know what inspired them to cover The Sound of Music, but it suits the dynamics experiments of the album perfectly. I mean, we all know the lyrics, but what we can't predict is the strength of the music they write up around them. He could be singing some cliche like a shopping list, and the song would be as powerful, if not as incongruous. While the drums are crashing like crazy things around that simple keyboard melody, I know that Sparks can't possibly be of this earth.

Angus Desire

Then back to the same old Halfnelson blueprint of minimal instruments supporting Russell's delivery of fucked-up lyrics, perking up occasionally but mostly just being weird.

See private parts in public school
They look so odd, try something else
Unnatural acts, consent implied
No one objects to Angus Desire


This worries me. I think I would be more worried if I felt I understood it at all. I think instead, I will just sit over here.

Underground

It's a nice to change to find some relaxing pop in the midst of all the everything, so Underground, penned by guitarist Earle Mankey gets two thumbs up from me. It hits the same kind of spot as Slowboat does on Halfnelson. If you don't listen to any lyrics beyond Oh won't you please go with me underground then it's a pretty kind of a pop song, with a pretty melody, fun bassline and some great tinkly piano. For ages, that was exactly why I liked it. But then I tried to work out the lyrics.

First, I deciphered this:

Why don't you please go with me underground
Where love is free and supergroups can be found


And that was exciting, because songs about music are some of my favourite things.

Once I dreamed I was on a basement tape
Took in just one take
Oh Lord, we gained our world distribution by relevant means
Jazz folk-rock fusion appealed to the teens


Okay so it's not all that coherent, but gives a lot more meaning and charm to the song when Underground means underground music (which they definitely were) and the mission statement is:

We shall sail off over rainbows
Till we spy the lands that come together
Smiles will greet us
Heads will turn to meet us
As we make the scene,
As we would make the scene.


A little more fey than I feel a Mael would have written it, but it appeals to me and I forgive Mankey for the travesty that is Biology 2.

The Louvre

The one song I automatically skip on this album, the one song that prevents it from being perfect. Too drawn out, even by Sparks standards. The gimmick of Russell singing in French doesn't save the song from being essentially dull, and when the same lyrics are sung in English later it takes away the kind of coolness it got from being incomprehensible to a lot of people. You see, me speaking some French, I feel cheated if I can work out what it means and other people just get the meaning spoonfed.

It's from the point of view of a statue in the Louvre, wanting to get out but being a statue makes it kinda difficult.

Essayer donc de m'enlever
Je voudrais voir si vous oser

Ils touchent mon marbre froid
Mais mes yeux sont fixer sur la porte


That's all you're getting from me, I am sick of this song.

Batteries Not Included

A great little piano-and-vocals scene, I almost don't want to say anything about it because of spoilers, which is ridiculous because it's a forty-five second song whose ending is the title. I will just say that Russell makes an excellent petulant child and leave it at that.

Whippings and Apologies

Far less risque than it sounds. Kinda like Moon Over Kentucky in that the lyrics are few and far between. Less like Moon Over Kentucky in that it starts frenetic and driven, and the vocals are yelped with slighly strangled relish in the slight pauses between onslaughts of noise. The drums are my favourite part of the whole deal, as are those moments where the music has stopped and you're just on edge, waiting for him to cut back in, bringing the music with him with a crash.

This album is way up there with the best of Sparks, despite its initial obscurity. I wish I had seen it live, like I wish I had seen every single album live. But it was not to be, and I have to settle for videos such as this:

Kommentarer

  • timahall

    Not quite as good as the debut but still amazing.

    15 dec 2009, 16:46
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