- Sparks (band)
Infobox musical artist |
Name = Sparks
Img_capt = Sparks in 2006
Background = group_or_band
Origin = Los Angeles,
Genre = Rock, pop,
Years_active = 1970–present
URL = [http://www.allsparks.com/ www.allsparks.com]
Ron Mael Russell Mael
Sparks is an American rock and
pop musicband formed in Los Angelesin 1970 by brothers Ron (keyboards) and Russell Mael(vocals), initially under the name Halfnelson. Best known for their quirky approach to song writing,cite web | author= Dye, David | year=2006 | title="Sparks: Elegantly Whimsical" | work= npr.org | url=http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5555691|accessdate=2006-09-24] Sparks' music is often accompanied by cutting and acerbic lyrics,cite news|title="Shooting Off Sparks" | publisher=LA Weekly|author=Alfvegren, Skylaire | date= 1998-11-04| url=http://www.laweekly.com/music/music/shooting-off-sparks/12237/ | accessdate=2006-04-13] and an idiosyncratic stage presence, typified in the contrast between Russell's wide-eyed hyperactive frontman antics and Ron's sedentary scowling.cite web | author=McNair, James | title="Sparks: Creating mischief again with their latest album" | year=2006 | work=Independent Newspapers (UK)|work=Enjoyment|url=http://enjoyment.independent.co.uk/music/features/article347014.ece/ | accessdate=2006-04-18 ]
The band's long career has seen them successfully adopt many different musical genres; including glam pop,
power pop, electronic dance music, mainstream pop and most recently chamber pop. Despite these many styles, a recognizable "Sparks sound" remains throughout, and they have enjoyed a large cult following since their first releases.cite web| author=Ashlock, Jesse | year=2003 | title="Sparks profile" | work=Epitonic.com | url=http://www.epitonic.com/index.jsp?refer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.epitonic.com%2Fartists%2Fsparks.html|accessdate=2006-09-24] Sparks have been highly influential on the development of popular music, in particular on the late 1970s scene, when in collaboration with Giorgio Moroder(and Telexsubsequently), they reinvented themselves as an electronic pop duo, and abandoned the traditional rock band line up.cite journal|author= Easlea, Daryl |year=2003|month=July|title=Sparks Interview|journal=Record Collector Magazine Issue|volume=287] In contrast to the esteem in which they are held by such peers as Depeche Mode, New Order, and They Might Be Giants, who all cite Sparks as a major influence, their almost constantly changing styles and unique visual presentations have sometimes seen them dismissed as a novelty act.cite news|title=Lively Sparks|publisher=New York Press|author=J.R. Taylor|url=http://www.nypress.com/16/30/music/music1.cfm |accessdate=2006-04-13]
The 2002 release of "
Lil' Beethoven", their self-described "genre-defining opus",cite web|title=Sparks Interview "Melting Down Beethoven" on musicohm.com|url=http://www.musicomh.com/interviews/sparks.htm/|accessdate=2006-04-13] and 2006's "Hello Young Lovers" (their 20th studio album) have brought Sparks renewed critical and commercial success, and seen them continue to "steer clear of pop conventions."cite news|publisher=Billboard News|title=News|url=http://www.billboard.com/bbcom/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001263586|accessdate=2006-04-13]
The history of Sparks spans five decades, from inception in the late 1960s LA club scene, through adoption by English fans in the middle 1970s, electronic experimentation in the late 1970s, and finally breaking through in the US of the early 1980s, a cinematic sojourn at the end of that decade with a return to form in the mid-1990s which continues to this day as they continue to push the boundaries of pop music.
Brothers Ron and Russell Mael grew up in
Pacific Palisades, in western Los Angeles County, California,cite web|author= Encyclopedia of Popular Music | title="Sparks" | work=BBC.co.uk | url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/cgi-perl/music/muze/index.pl?site=music&action=biography&artist_id=764086 | accessdate=2006-04-13] during the “Golden Age” of the LA club scene, with The Doors, Love and The Standellsregularly playing the Whisky-a-Go-Go on Sunset Stripand the Beach Boysplaying the afternoon event Teenage Fair.cite news| author=Hodgkinson, Will | title="Sparks Interview" | work=Arts Guide | publisher=Guardian Newspaper|date=2002-11-01 |url=http://arts.guardian.co.uk/fridayreview/story/0,,823087,00.html|accessdate=2006-04-13] Both Ron and Russell Mael are seen in the audience during the Ronettessection of the famous rock movie " Big TNT Show", filmed in 1966. Both attended UCLA, Ron studying cinema and graphic art, Russell theatre arts and filmmaking. Detesting the folk music scene, which they considered "...cerebral and sedate and we had no time for that", they developed a particular taste in English bands of the time such as The Who, Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd, The Kinksand The Move, which led to their description of themselves as "Anglophiles".
Forming Halfnelson in 1968, with rock critic
John Mendelsohnon drums, they soon came to the attention of producer Todd Rundgren, at whose urging Albert Grossmansigned the band to his Bearsville record label. Their self-titled debut - with the line-up consisting of college friend Earle Mankeyon guitar, Mankey's brother James on bass, Harley Feinstein now on drums and Rundgren producing - sold poorly, but after switching labels to Warner Bros. Recordsand renaming themselves Sparks, a play on the Marx Brothers,cite web|title=Sparkography on allsparks.com|url=http://www.allsparks.com/|accessdate=2006-04-15] the re-issued debut spawned the minor regional hit "Wonder Girl".
Their follow up album, "A Woofer In Tweeter's Clothing", led to a tour of the United Kingdom, including a residency at the Marquee in
London, which, despite much heckling during performances, helped them to secure a significant cult following. An appearance on the BBC Television's " Old Grey Whistle Test" led to wider interest regardless of a cold reception from the show's host Bob Harris.
Anglophiles in Albion
filename=Sparks this town aint big enough for the both of us(clip).ogg
title=Sparks "This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us" (1974)
description=20 second clip of Sparks's "This Town Ain't Big Enough For the Both of Us".
Oggsample box endRelocating to England in 1973 with a new manager, John Hewlett, founder of John's Children,cite web | author= Welch, Chris | year=1974 | title="Bright Sparks" | work= Melody Maker| url=http://www.loadofold.com/boots/bright_sparks.html | accessdate=2006-04-13] and a deal from Island Records, thanks in part to the exposure garnered by their BBC2 Television "Whistle Test" performance, they placed an ad in music weekly " Melody Maker" ("Wanted bass player for Sparks. Must be beard free and exciting")cite journal|year=2003|month=August|title=Hello, Goodbye 77 - Martin Gordon and Sparks|journal=Mojo Magazine Issue|volume=117] and through this hired Martin Gordon. With Adrian Fisher on guitar and Dinky Diamond on drums, in the midst of power strikes and a threatened vinyl shortage,cite news|publisher=Scotsman Newspaper|work=Living Section|title=Sparks of a revolution|url=http://living.scotsman.com/music.cfm?id=1882202005/|accessdate=2006-04-18] they recorded their breakthrough " Kimono My House" in 1974, scoring a number 2 hit with the single " This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us", despite Elton Johnbetting producer Muff Winwoodthat the song wouldn't break into the charts. This hit led to an appearance on the BBC's flagship music show " Top of the Pops". Russell's hyperactive movements were in sharp contrast to the keyboard-bound, soberly-dressed Ron's expressionless squint, whose toothbrush mustache and neatly parted hair gave him more than a passing resemblance to Adolf Hitler. Gordon was sacked the day after the band's appearance on the show with no explanation at the time, although years later, Hewlett admitted to him that the brothers had found him intimidating.
The follow up albums, "Propaganda" and "Indiscreet", the latter produced by
Tony Visconti, were similarly successful and produced the hit singles "Looks, Looks, Looks", "Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth" and "Something For The Girl With Everything".
title=Sparks "Big Boy" (1976)
description=14 second clip of Sparks's "Big Boy".
Ogg1976 saw the Maels return home to LA. Concerned that their music may have become stale, they changed to a more "American" sound and recorded "Big Beat" with Rupert Holmeson production, followed by " Introducing Sparks"; both were mostly recorded with session musicians. This new "West Coast" sound was deemed a failure as they felt the results were "bereft of personality". In 1976, Sparks made one of their first forays into the movie business, making a cameo appearance in the disaster film"Rollercoaster", after Kiss turned down the roles.cite journal | author=Black, Johnny | title="Sparks Interview" | year=2006|month=September|journal=Mojo Magazine Issue|volume=154]
After the disappointment of the last two albums, the brothers found themselves at "a 'what do we do now?' moment". By 1979 they had tired of the rock band format and determined to take their music in a more electronic direction. They had expressed admiration for
Giorgio Moroder, creator of the iconic disco anthem " I Feel Love" performed by Donna Summer, to a German journalist who turned out to be a friend of his. As a result, they teamed up with Moroder and created " No. 1 In Heaven", an album which would not only redefine the Sparks sound but would challenge the concept of what is meant by a band and would be a major influence on emerging electro pop artists. The follow-up in 1980, " Terminal Jive", scored a massive hit single in France, "When I'm With You", which led to them staying in the country for a year promoting the album. The single also hit the Top 20 in Australia, reaching #14.
Finding the electronic equipment they had adopted for their new sound too cumbersome to tour with, they returned to the more traditional band format for their next three releases, "
Whomp That Sucker", "Angst In My Pants" and "Sparks in Outer Space". They finally broke into the US singles charts with " Cool Places" from 1983's "..Outer Space". The track was a collaboration with Go-Go Jane Wiedlin, who, at one time, ran her own Sparks fanclub, and its success was in part thanks to LA's KROQradio station, which hailed them as local heroes.
The late 1980s and early 1990s saw the brothers concentrate on filmmaking, particularly an attempt to make a Japanese comic strip, "
Mai, The Psychic Girl", into a movie. Despite interest from Tim Burtonand six years' work on the project, it came to nothing.cite web|publisher=Scotsman Newspaper|work=Living Section|title=Thirty chord wonders|url=http://living.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=68772006/|accessdate=2006-04-13]
Return to music
title=Sparks "When Do I Get To Sing My Way?" (1994)
description=15 second clip of Sparks's "When Do I Get To Sing My Way".
Ogg1994 saw the Maels return with the release of "Gratuitous Sax and Senseless Violins", providing the hit singles "When Do I Get To Sing My Way?" and "When I Kiss You (I Hear Charlie ParkerPlaying)". 1997 saw the release of "Plagiarism", an album of cover versions of their own songs featuring collaborations with Faith No More, Erasureand Jimmy Somerville. Half of the album was recorded by Tony Visconti in London with the other half recorded by the brothers in their own purpose-built studio in LA, surrounded by busts of Elvis. In 1998 they recorded the soundtrack for the movie " Knock Off", starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, directed by the acclaimed Hong Kong based producer/director Tsui Hark(who had appeared on his own tribute song by the band on the album "Gratuitous Sax and Senseless Violins")."Balls", released in 2000, was generally perceived as Sparks treading water.
If "Balls" was greeted with apathy, 2002 saw the release of the album which the band themselves described as their "genre-defining opus". "Lil' Beethoven", featuring quasi-classical arrangements of strings and choirs, led to renewed interest in the band, for instance "Record Collector magazine" named the album as one of its "Best New Albums of 2002", describing it as "... possibly the most exciting and interesting release ever from such a long established act"cite journal|title=Best New Albums of 2002|author=Various Staff Writers|year=2003|month=January|journal=Record Collector Magazine Issue|volume=281] and later in 2003 saying "... it really does feel like one of the best albums ever made." A UK and European tour had the band playing the entire album each night in the first half of the show, with fan favourites making up the second. The line-up now included former
Faith No Moreguitarist Dean Mentain addition to Tammy Glover on drums. Long-time fan Morrisseyinvited Sparks to perform at the 2004 Meltdown Festival, of which he was curator. They performed their breakthrough "Kimono My House" album, followed by "Lil Beethoven", both in their entirety. Listen
title=Sparks "Perfume" (2006)
description=23 second clip of Sparks's "Perfume".
Oggsample box endFebruary 2006 saw the release of "Hello Young Lovers", their twentieth studio album. The album is regarded as carrying on where "Lil Beethoven" left off, being described as "... cynical, intelligent and very, very funny",cite web|title="Hello Young Lovers" review on bbc.co.uk|url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/classicpop/reviews/sparks_hello.shtml|accessdate=2006-04-25] it has met with considerable acclaim, though some reviewers regard the constant use of wit, satire, and lyrical repetition as becoming wearisome or annoying.cite news|title="Hello Young Lovers Review"|author=Cairns, Dan|work= Sunday Times (Ireland)|date= 2006-02-05|url=http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2101-2019585,00.html|accessdate=2006-04-25] cite web|title="Hello Young Lovers" review on StylusMagazine.com|url=http://www.stylusmagazine.com/review.php?ID=3781|accessdate=2006-04-25]
The brothers tend to be dismissive of the latest trends in popular music, seeing most current bands as lacking musical ambition and experimental drive. Indeed the predictable trends in much of modern rock, as they see it, served as inspiration for their latest album. However, they have expressed admiration for
Eminem, Outkast, Franz Ferdinand, Belisha and Morrissey.
The pair appeared in the season 6 finale of the US TV show "
Gilmore Girls", performing "Perfume" from the album "Hello Young Lovers". They released a live DVD of a September 2006 show at the London Forum as well as a long-awaited CD release of their previously unavailable 1977 album " Introducing Sparks".
On May 12th 2008, Sparks released the single "Good Morning", taken from the album "
Exotic Creatures Of The Deep".
May and June 2008 saw the 21-night "Sparks Spectacular" in London, where they played each of their albums in chronological order during the first twenty nights, and premiered their new album on the twenty-first concert on June 13th, 2008. [ [http://www.side-line.com/news_comments.php?id=27328_0_2_0_C Sparks to play an album a night in London] ] . Each night, they performed an album in its entirety followed by a rare track - many of the songs have never been performed live before. The band asked their fans to visit their website and vote for the track that they'd most like to hear the band perform during the second half of the 21st concert after the premiere of "
Exotic Creatures Of The Deep", though Russell Mael admitted that he and Ron would probably influence the poll a little...
Fans who bought a "Golden Ticket" (which allowed entry into all 21 gigs) also received a poster signed by the band and a CD single entitled
Islington N1, a reference to the postal address of the venue for the first 20 gigs.
Sparks' musical style has changed dramatically over their almost forty year career. In the beginning they attempted to emulate the sound of their English heroes, such as
The Who, Syd Barrett-era Pink Floydand The Kinks, sometimes even pretending to be an English band while on the LA club circuit. They relocated to England during the Glam rockera where, despite cutting an odd figure on this scene, they found success with their polished brand of intricate pop tunes and convoluted lyrics. By the second half of the decade, they were concerned that the sound they had developed while based in England was in danger of becoming stale; they returned to LA, determined to adopt a more "West Coast" sound. This they achieved with producer Rupert Holmes on "Big Beat" and (sans Holmes) on "Introducing Sparks".
However the band were not satisfied with the results, which they felt lacked personality, perhaps due to the reliance on
session musicians. This led to the most dramatic change of style the band would attempt, when they teamed up with Giorgio Moroder, dropped the band format altogether and produced "Number One in Heaven". This album is regarded as a landmark in the development of electronic music and greatly influenced bands which would emerge in the following years. They soon returned to a more traditional line-up, which remained until 1988's "Interior Design". There then followed a long hiatus until 1994's "Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins", which was a foray into the techno dance world, which they had helped to spawn back in the late 1970s.cite web|title=Sparks Profile on music.com|url=http://www.music.com/group/sparks/1/|accessdate=2006-04-18] While their style has remained on the same path since "Gratuitous Sax...", they have nonetheless continued to push the boundaries of conventional pop music and songwriting, remaining both innovative and highly influential.
Lyrically, the band's style has been described as coming from "the school of Cole Porter, favouring caustic wit over trivial personal problems, …achingly clever lyrics seesaw between superficial gloss, profound sentiment and the incomprehensibly bizarre." Repeated lyrical motifs have become a distinct feature on recent albums. On "My Baby’s Taking Me Home" off "Lil' Beethoven" (2002), the song title is repeated 104 times, with no other words being used, other than a spoken interlude. Similarly, on the same album, "Your Call Is Very Important To Us", uses a corporation style call-hold message: "Your call is very important to us. Please hold" which is then sung with some additional words: "At first she said your call is very important to us, then she said please, please hold." The only other lyrics in the song are "Red light", "Green light", "I'm Getting Mixed Signals" and "Sorry, I'm Going To Have To Put You Back On Hold". These elements are layered with a simple piano line to create a highly textured effect.
Many musicians have contributed to Sparks music, both on record and live. In addition to the Maels, Sparks currently consists of Steven Nistor, Jim Wilson, Marcus Blake, Steven McDonald,
Dean Mentaand Tammy Glover.
Previous musicians who have played in Sparks include:
John Mendelsohn, Earle Mankey, Jim Mankey, Harley Feinstein, Martin Gordon, Adrian Fisher, the late Norman "Dinky" Diamond, Trevor White, Ian Hampton, Christie Haydon, Sal Maida, Jeffrey Salen, Hilly Boy Michaels, Ben Benay, Alan Broadbent, David Foster, Ed Greene, David Paich, Mike Porcaro, Reinie Press, Lee Ritenour, Thom Rotella, Keith Forsey, Bob Haag, Leslie Bohem, David Kendrick, James Goodwin and John Thomas.
* [http://www.allsparks.com/ Sparks' site]
*Biographical or discographical
* [http://www.sparksphotos.fr.tc/ Sparks Photos]
* [http://www.sparks-fanatics.com SPARKS] (fansite)
* [http://www.sparks-mael.co.uk Sparks Discography]
* [http://graphikdesigns.free.fr/halfnelson.html HALFNELSON SPARKS]
* [http://graphikdesigns.free.fr/sparks-mael-france.html Sparks - French-language site]
* [http://sparks-mael-brothers.blogspot.com/ Sparks - Hello Young Lovers]
* [http://sparks.zikforum.com/index.forum/ Forum Francophone France ] Other
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/music/connect/2008/artist/sparks/index.shtml#emp Video interview at Hydro Connect Festival, August 2008]
* [http://www.kittenpants.org/19_babyt/sparks.asp Kittenpants.org interview]
* [http://home.scarlet.be/~ping9712/awaken-covers-engl.htm Sparks covered] by Awaken.
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