Tuesday 25 October 2016


Sparks have been around for what seems like forever.

They'd been a band for a few years already, with a couple of albums in the shops, before This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us became a big hit in 1974, establishing the Mael brothers, Ron and Russell, as quirky art-rock icons.

About six years ago, the 21 shows they played in London were made remarkable by the group playing a different one of their 21 albums in its entirety each night.

Since then, they've released one more studio album.

The last two years have been spent working on material for this surprise collaboration with Glasgow's twitchy former art-school boys Franz Ferdinand.

There are probably those who'll hail this coming together as a marriage made in heaven. On paper, the collaboration seems inspired. Both parties have met at an important time in their lives.

Franz Ferdinand first created quite a stir at the beginning of 2004 when their single Take Me Out exploded in the charts and was quickly followed by their debut album. With their most recent collection, Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, the buzz has waned.

Meanwhile, in their fifth decade, Sparks didn't need much persuading to give this project a whirl.Both bands are industrious and well sussed about the dangers implicit in this venture.

At six and a half minutes, Collaborations Don't Work stands as the album centrepiece and stylistically combines the various strands of both groups' influences, ranging from Broadway wartime sheet music to operatic prog-glam excess. They exchange ripostes, answering "I don't think you're really trying" with "What, pray tell, are you implying?" It's clever and jolly. But Bohemian Rhapsody it's not.

They sound like they're having fun. Mixing the recognisable staccato keyboard rhythms of Ron Mael with the clattering dance beats of drummer Paul Thomson, and with Alex Kapranos and Russell Mael divvying up deliveries between them.

When they sing in unison on Things I Won't Get it's uncannily like having Tiny Tim drop in on Blur.

The Man Without a Tan has something of Tony Visconti's work with Philip Chevron. Little Guy from the Suburbs acknowledges everyone's debt to Lou Reed's more laconic work. "There are no heroes in this life," they croon.

Elsewhere it's noisier, with their Brechtian lyrical characters, Dictator's Son and The Power Couple grabbing attention.HHHII


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