by Madeline Bocaro
© Madeline Bocaro, 2023. No part of this site may be reproduced or re-blogged in whole or in part, in any manner without permission of the copyright owner.
Sparks have produced another wonderful piece of pop perfection, legitimizing the most brilliant hype-sticker that has ever graced shrink-wrap…
“The Spectacular New Masterpiece”
This review is a bit late, as I’ve just attended the first five shows of Sparks’ 2023 tour, starting in the U.K. I left off at the Royal Albert Hall and will see them again at The Hollywood Bowl! They are now off to Europe and onwards, as the album reached No. 7 on the UK charts this week, and No.1 in physical album sales! It was cool to hear some of these songs live, before the album was released.
Sparks fans (old and new) are crying tears of joy! The link between this new genre-hopping group of fourteen songs is static electricity! The album is a continuum propelled by a crisp and glorious buzz which leaves your hair standing on end. You suddenly find yourself at the other side of the room, with no idea how you got there. That’s what I call a “moving” piece of work!
Sparks are back with Island Records after 49 years with their 26th album. Believe it or not, The Girl is Crying in Her Latte is NOT their longest song title. The simple, repetitive lyrics of the three-minute title track are classic Sparks (although they are also known for much wordier lyrics).
The line, “So many people are crying in their latte” is a sad social commentary – obviously a First World problem. No matter our social strata, we all feel the same pain. However, this song highlights this social crisis with a slick, sizzling, sputtering synth twist. If Ron had written this in the 70s, we might have had verses about people crying in their Tang, Diet Coke, Tab, Fanta or various other drinks, and especially a verse about crying in our “Kool Aid” (as some of us still seem to be doing). But the lyrics are austere. Alongside the repetitive one-note guitar part, there is a keyboard bit – Ron’s deranged take on a hypnotic Manzarek solo by The Doors. In some innovative sections, Russell’s voice plays the bass part.
Cate Blanchett is placed in the video (wearing a bright yellow Stella McCartney suit) against a pure white panorama. There is no instrument, nor microphone visible in the mini stage-play. Ron is merely a customer in his own video, tapping his Starbucks cup on the table and raging (in his own inimitable impassive way) by rhythmically cleaning up his spill, wiping the sweat from his brow and brazenly throwing his paper towel on the floor.
Oh, the irony! In ‘Veronica Lake’ a Hollywood bombshell is the subject of a song about the mass production of bombshells in American factories during WWII. Russell’s repetitive, mesmerizing vocals mimic the production line. The actress’ popular eye-covering hairstyle (worn by female factory workers) is getting caught in the machinery. This song is based upon a vintage public service newsreel during which the actress changes to a much more practical and safer hairstyle called “The Victory Roll.”
Watch the Newsreel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMcSNAUzDIk
‘Nothing is as Good as they Say It Is’ was the third pre-released song, and it’s in classic vintage Sparks style! The title is undeniably true. This is why everyone feels compelled to get drunk all the time!
In what is most certainly the first musical neonatal nightmare, a baby can’t even withstand one full day on Earth. This is part two of the saga of the sperm cell that won the human race to be born (in the song ‘Tryouts for the Human Race’ from Sparks’ 1979 album No. 1 In Heaven). And boy, does he have regrets. After just 22 hours, he voices utmost disdain for the world. Not too long after his first slap on the back, the infant begs to be returned to the womb – a much more pleasant place (other than the south of France).
How appropriate that this song was pre-released on Mother’s Day weekend! It probably won’t be popular at gender-reveal parties, but it would certainly get the party started!
Heavy on choruses and light on verses, it is ecstatically pop, with a heavy message from an odd perspective. The baby also chides his parents for their low standards of acceptance for “ugliness, anxiety, phoney tans.” This would sound at home on Indiscreet, Whomp That Sucker or In Outer Space. You can even sing the first two lines of ‘Now That I Own the BBC’ along with the melody.
The hilarious video with countless babies grimacing and crying is sprinkled with scenes of war and pollution. This is another instance of Sparks’ ecological consciousness – the first being ‘Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth’ (Propaganda 1974) and the second, ‘Please Don’t Fuck Up My World’ on their 2020 album, A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip.
The percolating ‘Escalator’ tells the hopeless story of ships passing in the night. It is especially understandable in London’s Tube stations, with their super long escalators. No chance of hooking up there at all!
In ‘The Mona Lisa’s Packing, Leaving Late Tonight.’ da Vinci’s It-Girl is fed up. She has been following humanity with her eyes for much too long, and it’s time for her exit.
‘You Were Meant for Me’ is a simple, steady and beautiful sizzler. It would make a nice moonlight dance song, but don’t talk to the Maels about moons and stars! This has a gorgeously weird middle eight!
‘Not That Well-Defined’ lies somewhere in the gray zone. In this world where everything is labelled, branded and categorized, those who are non-descript are lost in the shuffle. The subject of this Sparks ballad is ethereal, like in an impressionist painting.
There’s a new dance craze at the DMZ! It’s not like the Twist or the Hanky Panky. It’s the goose step – first popularized in song by The Rutles with ‘Goose Step Mama’ (covered by Shonen Knife in 1990). ‘We Go Dancing’ resembles a Wagnerian hoe-down arranged by Stravisnky. The sampled stomping of jackboots (under the dear leader’s direction) punctuates this bombastic dance symphony, celebrating the Mael’s appreciation of K-pop.
It’s surprising that Sparks are awaiting the exit of a defiant unwanted guest on ‘When You Leave.’ After all, they have their own secret weapon in the song ‘Equator,’ which has worked well for me over the years. By the time the synthetic sax kicks in, every guest politely asks for his coat and hat, and makes a quick exit. ‘Equator’ has evacuated an unwelcome squirrel in the attic.
The lyrics of this new song anticipate the great reverie that will ensue when the stubborn guest finally leaves. I wouldn’t want to be the carpet cleaner!
‘Take Me for a Ride’ is eerie and cinematic. This would feel at home in a Hitchcock film, or on Sparks’ album Exotic Creatures of the Deep. This time the monkey isn’t driving. It’s a girl named Laura, whisking the criminal Johnny off into the night for the thrill of their weekly crimes, and the ride.
‘It’s Sunny Today’ is beautifully influenced by Phillip Glass – especially reminiscent of his Mishima film soundtrack. The dilemma here, is deciding what to do on a sunny day.
I hope that the girl marries the guy in the off-beat track ‘A Love Story.’ He knows the true meaning of the slogan, “Happy wife, happy life” as he scores drugs for her. This guy is a keeper!
‘It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way’ is a beautiful (mostly acoustic) song of encouragement. It’s for those who need to break life’s rules and live it in our own way – much like Sparks (and their fans) have always done. It’s also a commentary on being steadfast when songwriting – “No chart-bound song / No sing-along.” They (and we) have certainly have paid for it.
The sarcasm of ‘Gee, That Was Fun’ marks the end of a special relationship, with a list of typically ridiculous mundane situations defining every love story that has inevitably ended. It was also perfectly appropriate near the end of each live Sparks concert on this tour!
I don’t ever want this buzz to end, so I’ll turn this over for another listen.
Don’t forget to pick up the picture disc vinyl and the cassette!
Edgar Wright’s 2021 documentary film The Sparks Brothers revealed that Sparks are “Your favorite band’s favorite band. It was nice to see Edgar again backstage at Royal Albert Hall, and he took this great photo…
Special thanks and love to all the fans (old and new) who travelled to the concerts!
Will catch up with you again in New York, PA and Los Angeles!
ALSO SEE MY STORY ABOUT THE ALBUM, A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip:
And more of my Sparks stories:
© Madeline Bocaro 2023. No part of this text may be copied, photocopied, reproduced, translated or re-blogged in whole or in part, without prior written permission. Reproduction without permission is prohibited. All text written by Madeline Bocaro is protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without prior written permission.
See more in my Playlist category:
About A Song
Eat to the Beat
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