Sparks: The Island Years
This essential vinyl box-set is a feast of idiosyncratic rock
Twenty-three albums into a 45-year career (yep, they’re still releasing albums), Sparks continue to baffle and bewilder like no force in musical history. And this superb box-set is a fascinating introduction, should one be needed, to the Mael brothers’ baroque take on pop/rock.
After ditching the original Sparks band of the first two albums (the glorious but largely unmarketable Sparks and A Woofer In Tweeter’s Clothing), moving from LA to London would prove a most fortuitous move as Ron (the stoic one) and Russell (the bouncy one) signed to Island and enlisted a band of UK players. The resultant album, Kimono My House (1974), carried the single This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us, which shot the band directly into the nation’s living rooms, radios and hearts.
Propaganda, released the same year as its predecessor, and Indiscreet the following year, ensured that this utterly majestic three-pronged sonic attack gave Sparks' their fully-deserved star status, breaking from an unfair glam rock tag and powered towards unique and adventurous climes.
I sincerely doubt there has been, or will ever be, a more superior hat-trick of quality musical output.
Marrying the sharp lyrical wit of Noël Coward with the natural bombast of The Who, and a sense of musical adventure eclipsing The Beatles and Queen, no musical style is feared and no subject matter considered taboo. They touch on topics ranging from suicide pacts (Here On Heaven) to forbidden female body parts (Tits), and all surreal points between.
Never to be accused of conventionality, Los Bros Mael would subsequently fire the band that helped propel them to previously undreamed heights. Inspired by the burgeoning punk scene of the time, they would relocate to New York to hastily grab new recruits and record the much misunderstood Big Beat. Their 1976 full-length was a stripped-back affair that yielded no hits, but saw the band eschewing mainstream courtship in favour of designing an extraordinary niche that has encouraged the Mael’s various flights of whimsy.
The hidden treasure of this box set, however, gleams in the shape of a concise collection of fascinating rarities and b-sides called The Rest Of Sparks, confirming this lavish collection an essential purchase for lovers of timeless and sublime musical experimentation.