By Madeline Bocaro
The mischievous baton-wielding, sneaker-wearing character on the cover of Lil’ Beethoven could very well be Ron Mael’s inner child. Devious in his operatic presentation, our maestro lashes out at hip-hop hypocrisy, popular culture, and at life in general. The bitter bard conducts the proceedings, ‘scratching’ and ‘sampling’ behind the synth, with brother Russell ‘on the mic’ rapturously rapping ‘the message’. Move over Grandmaster Flash!
Lil’ Beethoven is not only Sparks’ Sgt. Pepper – in fact, it could more likely be their Never Mind The Bollocks! It has more balls than Balls, more angst than Angst In My Pants, and Plagiarism only touched upon the plethora of musical genres emulated here. Each song is a strange, smartass symphony that so eloquently and elegantly ridicules everything that is wrong with music and with life today. Never mind Pet Sounds…this is Sparks’ ‘Pet Peeves’! The classy presentation undermines the rebellious nature of the lyrics. Sparks don’t mind making public enemies because they so much admire Public Enemy! Once again, to their credit, no one except for their fans will appreciate this masterpiece for many, many years.
Lil’ Beethoven commences with “The Rhythm Thief”. We hear the words, “I am the rhythm thief – say goodbye to the beat.” We envision the Mael brothers in burglar masks, unplugging drum machines world-wide from disco to disco like a pair of sinister Robin Hoods!
Drummer Tammy Glover and former Faith No More guitarist Dean Menta both round out the album with guitar and the use of kettle drums adding lots of drama to the grandeur of the new classic Sparks sound.
The album’s second selection, “How Do I Get To Carnegie Hall?” answers its own rhetorical qu
estion many times before the song is over. Vaudeville is alive and well in this tune. Russ
ell seems possessed by the ghost of Henny Youngman as he endlessly repeats the question (almost as maddening as Abbot & Costello’s Who’s On First? routine!) However, his golden voice returns to lament, “Still there is no sign of you.”
Yes, real-life affairs should really take precedence over some bands’ hissy-fits as stated in “What Are All These Bands So Angry About?”
The romantic “I Married Myself” is simply beautiful. Congratulations to Russell! He is a much better match for himself than that old Jacqueline Kennedy! This song maintains a certain theatricality despite its simple arrangement. Ron is still grappling with the traditional concept of the ‘love song’. He can out-write anyone with his beautiful melodies, but always throws in a curse word (as in “The Angels”) or an odd situation as his signature mark.
“Ride ‘Em Cowboy” wavered from Victorian to Wagnerian. The song is simultaneously complex and min
“My Baby’s Taking Me Home” begins with simple piano, and an old-fashioned megaphone affect on the vocals, but becomes more lavish and ultra-modern as the song progresses. The multi layering of Russell’s voice seems infinite.
“Your Call Is Very Important To Us. Please Hold” (who else would start a second sentence within a song title but Sparks?!) picks up where Kraftwerk’s “The Telephone Call” left off. Rather than making weird computerized noises, Sparks allow us re-live the frustration of that cold familiar teasing phrase repeated ad
-nauseum over a strangely beautiful yet angry classical piano trill amidst more orchestrations.
“Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls” is a humourous headbanger (disguised by a sweet sounding intro and outro) about a preposterous topic that has dumbfounded many since the phenomenon became prominent in music videos in the 80s. Sparks have cleverly deduced that “It ain’t done with smoke and mirrors.” Dean Menta’s guitar makes this song rock out!
Any Broadway show-tune composer would envy “Suburban Homeboy”. He’s a modern-day “Yankee Doodle Dandy”! Now That’s Entertainment!
Roll over Beethoven – tell Sid Vicious the news!