Sparks: the true godfathers of eclectic and free-form modern rock

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Quickly, this new band is on par with Bowie and Bolan, Morrissey and Erasure, Faith No More and Ween, and Franz Ferdinand, the Scottish indie rock band he recently joined to form the FFS supergroup. Well, the answer can only be Sparks, as brothers Ron and Russell Mael have never really stopped, rested, or followed any trends since their formation in Los Angeles in the late ’60s. that they have had a career four times as long as ours, says Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, we still feel like contemporaries. I don’t really see Sparks as a band from the past. The Mael brothers are in their sixties but Sparks is ageless. “It’s not a young or old thing,” says Ron Mael. “The impression you give to others externally changes over time, so it becomes more difficult to convince people musically that you are relevant, but we just put blinders on and ignore all of those things and do what we think we are.” interesting. “

Visually, Sparks provided what is really their one constant: a sort of modern rock icon in silhouette with the kinetic movements of younger brother Russell and rockstar hair ironically wavy against Ron Mael’s stiff, sullen presence, with his own sleek hair and a Charlie Chaplin / Hitler mustache on his pursed lip. It was such a fresh, eerie, and unforgettable face that no less than Paul McCartney paid tribute in the video for his 1980 single “Coming Up.” (Watch the keyboardist scene at left.)

While the press, especially in Europe, loved Sparks, their creativity could never be deconstructed. They did art rock with Tony Visconti (“Looks, Looks, Looks”), disco with his maestro Giorgio Moroder (“Number One Song in Heaven”), but it never seemed to change genre. It never looked like Sparks. “The sounds are pretty drastically different at various stages,” Kapranos explains, “but what’s constant is Ron’s writing and Russell’s vocals. You can’t disguise it. It is very distinctive. Ron was never seen singing, but he wrote all the lyrics and Russell’s voice could soar into a histrionic falsetto or provide a flat, jaded commentary.

For a while, it seemed like the ’80s New Wave, marked by witty lyrics about teenage lust and daring, synthesized arrangements (two hallmarks of Sparks), regularly producing major hits, would be the place. ideal for Sparks. They stood out on the soundtrack of the hit 1983 film “Valley Girl” with “Eaten By the Monster of Love” and the title track from their 11th album, “Angst in My Pants”. MTV played the Sparks duo with Go-Go’s Jane Wiedlin, “Cool Places,” but mainstream success in America continued to elude them. Ultimately, however, the Maels had to be content with a dedicated and disciplined base (the young Kapranos among them). There was something a little too smart about Sparks to be true pop stars; they could only be “pop stars” in quotes – they saw the fallacy of the game a little too reflexively to really play it. Fortunately, Sparks spent much of their career as artists for big labels, alongside big sales forces, as there was always an internal contingent who were fans and knew they were a prestigious group who made the label, as a whole, classier and smarter. “There were people who said very early on, ‘It doesn’t sell that much, but there’s something cool about these guys; let’s support them, ”Ron said. And so Sparks was able to continue to create remarkable work like the single “When Do I Get to Sing My Way?” and their 2002 masterpiece “Lil ‘Beethoven”.

They just continued to be Sparks, and every year a little piece of the pop world caught up with them. The changes in recording technology and distribution freed them up a bit, but the Sparks were never less than totally free to do whatever they wanted to do next, be it a re-recording of their own classics (“Plagiarism “) or a theatrical production based on a Swedish author,” The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman. ” “We always try to be interested enough to make music that will turn others on in the same way we feel excited to do it. What it is today appears to be FFS. This project has been in the works for almost a decade, when Franz first appeared as one of the most exciting groups in the “new rock” movement. “We had heard ‘Take Me Out’ very early on and the song was very inspiring for us,” says Ron. “We sometimes feel a little tired of the world pop music is in. You want to look for the things that inspire you to keep doing what you are doing. This song was so magical in its own way; it was really important back then for what we were working on.

The Maels read that Franz, unsurprisingly, also admired Sparks, and that a friendship soon began, which led to an ongoing correspondence and, later, a series of musical portraits of a series of unsuitable characters, who ‘they eventually recorded with producer John Congleton (St. Vincent) before settling on the FFS nickname. The resulting album, also called “FFS”, is the product of a relatively young group and their somewhat older peers who find a way to work on an equal footing. He achieves harmony between two very distinctive groups largely through enduring mutual respect. It’s literally Franz Ferdinand… and Sparks. Nothing changes drastically, but rather blends in perfectly. “There never was a feeling that it was paternalistic,” says Kapranos. “Although, of course, we respect and love their music.”

Sparks may be the true godfathers of eclectic, free-form modern rock, and there is a temptation to accept such honorary titles; but saying yes means you’re almost done, and Ron and Russell five decades later may be just getting started.

Radically different in style but still visually striking, here are some of the best Sparks hours on video:

FFS (Franz Ferdinand and Sparks) – “Johnny Delusional”

“Enlighten Morrissey”

“My baby is taking me home”

“Music you can dance to”

“When can I sing” My Way “”

“All you think about is sex” – Sparks

Sparks and Jane Wiedlin – “Cool places”

“I predict”

“Tips for teens”

“The Number One Song in Heaven”

“Look, look, look”

“This town is not big enough for both of us”

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