Get to know Sparks, the favorite band from your favorite band
Influential, underestimated and overlooked, it has long been the dominant opinion of the musical duo Sparks, who counts among his most fervent fans Steve Jones of the Sex guns, Stephen Morris of Division of joy/New order and pop producer Jack Antonoff. The Sparks story begins in the 1960s in Los Angeles, where the music scene was dominated by his California popularized by the Beach Boys and folk rock artist Laurel Canyon. While they were students at UCLA, Ron Mael and his younger brother Russell were drawn to totally different sounds.
Ron was an aspiring keyboard wizard. Russell could sing, possessing a distinctive falsetto and a formidable vocal range. Calling themselves Urban Renewal Project, then later Halfnelson, they recorded original demo songs which eventually caught the eye of Todd Rundgren, who produced their self-titled debut album in 1971.
Although the effort was critically acclaimed and produced some shots, it was not a commercial success. Renaming themselves Sparks, the Mael brothers decamped for England in 1973, where they hoped to find a more receptive audience.
The group’s exit in 1974 Kimono My House was a critical and commercial success, spawning two of the top 10 UK singles. When Sparks appeared on the BBC The top of the pops, filmmaker Edgar Wright says they made a distinct impression.
“Russell is conventionally good-looking but quite androgynous and likes to strut around like a woman’s blouse, which would have been something at the time,” Wright said. “Ron has that Chaplin-style toothbrush mustache, and his hair slicked back, so he looks a bit like a creepy substitute teacher who has walked around in front of the TV. And on top of that, he’s watching the audience in the lens. at home, without smiling. “
Although Sparks managed to attract a significant number of fans, Wright says it’s no surprise that they failed to reach the mainstream: “They were kind of like provocateurs. You know you can kind of see the seeds of punk rock in what they were. There was something a little bit shocking about it, and coupled with their sound, it was too much for some people to understand. “
The Mael brothers returned to the United States in 1976, exploring heavier rock sounds before changing course and enlisting the producer Giorgio Moroder for their 1979 electro-pop effort, N ° 1 in paradise.
Critical David Fear says this album influenced a whole generation of British bands, including synth and electro pop duets like Erasure and Pet Shop Boys. In 1983, Sparks scored his first American Top 50 success, “Cool places“, a new wave inspired collaboration with Jane Wiedlin from Go-Go. From there it was electronic dance pop, then classically influenced pop art, and even a radio musical commissioned by Swedish public radio.
Rather than just staying ahead, says Fear, Sparks has always “built the curve,” relentlessly innovating in new terrain, sometimes at the expense of the recognition they’ve earned. Indeed, during a career spanning five decades and 25 albums, beyond their status as beloved group, Sparks remained largely unknown.
However, this summer, Sparks finally seems to have his time. Edgar Wright’s new documentary, The Sparks Brothers, is a star-studded love letter celebrating Mael’s quirky originality. It’s now in theaters and streaming on demand. Sparks has also partnered with French director Leos Carax on the unconventional musical film Annette, with Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard. Following the opening of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, it will hit theaters in the US on August 6 and air from August 20.
While some Sparks superfans may be ambivalent about the appearance of their favorite “secret” band, Russell Mael says he hopes the wave of attention will expand the reach of their audience. Where to start delving into the band’s vast eclectic discography is a challenge, but, thanks to NPR’s Bob Mondello, Here are some suggestions.