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Friday, Aug. 8, 2008

LISTENING POST

CD REVIEW

Sparks "Exotic Creatures of the Deep"


For a group dismissed by many as a novelty act, genre-hopping L.A. duo Sparks have a remarkable history. They have averaged just over one album release every two years since 1970 and have influenced pretty much every 1980s techno-pop group as well as just about every camp, flouncing singer or ironic tunesmith with a cutting way with words, from Pulp's Jarvis Cocker to Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields. If any doubters remain, they are probably beyond help — which is their loss, as "Exotic Creatures of the Deep" is excellent.

An intro straight from the Brian Wilson songbook soon gives way to the looping three-note piano refrain of "Good Morning," a gloriously catchy piece of quirky '60s pop. Ron Mael's lyrics remain as biting as ever, with the narrator waking up next to a stranger, reflecting on how good he imagines last night must have been and wondering, "I hope it's just your laugh that's infectious." Elsewhere, on "Lighten Up Morrissey," a rebuffed Russell Mael opines, "She won't hang out with me till my biting wit bites like his," before concluding, "If only Morrissey weren't so Morrissey-esque, she might overlook all my flaws."

As quotable a lyricist as Ron Mael is, what makes Sparks so vital nearly 40 years after they debuted is their beautiful, twisted song structures. "Strange Animal" flits capriciously from one style to another; the glamtastic "I Can't Believe that You Would Fall for All the Crap in this Song," sticks to one sleazy, electronically enhanced groove; and "Never Been High," a lament to lost narcotic opportunities, builds to a lushly orchestrated climax, with Ron's dry-as-brushwood lyrics imbued with a sense of sincerity and intensity by brother Russell's melodramatic falsetto vocals.



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