Sparks Propaganda

 Posted by
Nov 042021

I sometimes feel like it’s a failing of mine that I don’t “get” some Rock Nerd sacred cows such as Pet Sounds, Nina Simon, and most of Joni Mitchell’s catalog. These are but a few examples of art/artists held in high regard by a lot of friends with excellent and generally comparable musical tastes to mine. Why don’t I get it? Am I too musically unsophisticated? Am I shallow? Maybe, just maybe, could this be a difference of opinion and taste instead of some shameful personality deficiency?

I will revisit some of this stuff every few years to see if my tastes have evolved in a way that will allow me, for instance, to appreciate the bittersweet, openheartedness of Tony Asher’s lyrics, but for now they still sound like a Hallmark greeting card. So far, Raw Power has been the only one to break through.

I will, however, read a bio or watch a documentary about almost anyone, even if I despise their music (Twisted Sister), despise them as a person (David Crosby), or both (Papa John Phillips). And so, I ended up watching The Sparks Brothers on Netflix last night, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I first heard of them when they appeared in the mid-70s disaster movie Rollercoaster. Similar to when I saw Devo on SNL for the first time, I couldn’t tell if Sparks was a real band or a joke. Over the years, I’ve taken an occasional stab at listening to some of their stuff. I definitely do not like their music. But this documentary is great. I found their relationship with each other and their relentless pursuit of a shape-shifting muse to be really endearing. Even though I can’t find any musical common ground with them, I’m glad that I live in a world where they exist. Much like Rush, I like everything about them except for their music.

I highly recommend the movie. There have been Sparks posts on RTH in the past and our staunchest Sparks defenders are AWOL, so that leaves it to me, a non-Sparks fans to try and convince you to check it out. There will almost certainly be some moments that will annoy some of you, but I encourage you to power through to the end. It’s worth it. Come on, these guys have been at it for 50 years, can’t you spare them 2 hours?


  11 Responses to “Sparks Propaganda”

  1. I thought about going to the theater to see this one, but I did not get there. I just found out that it is on Netflix and I intend to catch it there.

    I have at least one friend that has loved this band since their 70’s heyday. I never went for them, although I might love them compared to someone like Rush or Journey.

    Thinking about it, my problems are that the songs are too cute and that pinched, dramatic delivery of Russell doesn’t work for me. Maybe Ron should ditch Russell and hire Robin Zander so I could better appreciate them. I think of “Surrender” as a pun free Sparks song if such a thing exists, and Zander strikes just the right tone.

  2. BigSteve

    I love the idea of ditching Russell, especially since his Look has deteriorated so drastically. I recently tried to listen to some of the later albums, since I really only know (and like well enough) the Kimono/Propaganda/Indiscreet era, but that was a no go. I don’t believe in authenticity, and I don’t think music always has to be super-serious, but I also can’t stand the approach that everything is just one big fucking joke. Speaking of which it seems appropriate that Weird Al just showed up on Youtube playing This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us as a solo accordion piece.

    Thanks for the tip on the doc being on Netflix though.

  3. trigmogigmo

    I’m looking forward to streaming it.

    My familiarity with Sparks is superficial and limited, but I like the little bit I know. I think for most of us it’s difficult to really get into new artists or back catalogs as much as we all surely did when we had endless hours to listen on repeat and absorb it until it became part of our souls. So I don’t expect to actually go too much deeper on Sparks…

    “I Predict” is funny and witty. I like it.

    My introduction to “This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us” was on the Siouxsie and the Banshees album “Through the Looking Glass” — which I’m a little embarrassed to say that although I listened to that album a lot, I was oblivious to the fact that it was ALL covers! Once I got tipped to that fact it led me to a few new-to-me things from the original artists. Like “Hall of Mirrors” by Kraftwerk — cool!

    That’s pretty much my Sparks depth!

  4. After you watch the movie, you will realize that you are monsters for trying to come between Ron and Russell.

  5. I’m not going to feel too guilty, since I wasn’t really trying to come between them, but to point out that Zander seemed to sell similar silliness with a degree of … shall we say, “authenticity.”

  6. I don’t know Sparks music, but I’ll be willing to watch the doc. Superficial, but you can’t ignore the elephant in the room: the one guy sported a Hitler-adjacent mustache! That always ensured to me that they weren’t to be taken seriously. They were a big joke without that funny a punchline. I’m sure there is more to them than that, but that one look always told me to move along.

  7. One problem with Sparks is that you cannot recommend to someone a signature song because they have shifted shapes so many times over the semi-century. If you survey their various best-ofs, you’ll find completely different compilations. Personally, I love their first album and the ‘Whomp That Sucker/Angst in My Pants’ period. Their most recent stuff ‘Hippopotamus’ and ‘A Steady Drip Drip Drip’ are chock full of wonders. I have no use for their electro-disco stuff. The Edgar Wright doc is full of delights such as (of course) Ron drives a VW Thing.

  8. trigmogigmo

    Just finished it — that was really very enjoyable. Quite a few “oh, yeah, that’s right…” moments for me. They seem like a couple of good eggs.

  9. Happiness Stan

    I finally got to see them live four years ago and they were even better than I dared to imagine. Russell’s voice is stunning, there was only one high note he missed during the show, and he nailed it the next time around and all others after in the song.

    I’ve barely scraped an acquaintance with any of their music after about 1975, but am very glad they’re still there. Looking forward to seeing the movie.

    I’m not sure if it’s available over there, but Netflix here currently has Rock and Roll’s Greatest Failure: Otway the Movie available. We watched it as a family recently and it is a total hoot.

  10. I need to take one for the team and try watching this thing. I don’t like Sparks at all. The guy with the Hitler mustache, looking up at me quizzically, is a deal-breaker, even before I get to the dreamboat brother and his 7-octave range. Ugh!

  11. 2000 Man

    I should probably watch that. I just took records to the record store yesterday to thin out the shelves a little, and I was talking to the guy at the counter because he gave me back a couple, mostly because the owner just doesn’t like the artists and won’t sell them (which I really like about the guy). I said, “At least you took that damned Sparks album. I bought it in 9th grade and I’ve hated it forever and every time I get rid of things it finds a way to stay on my shelf.” He said, “There wasn’t a Sparks album in there.” I couldn’t believe it. I got home and checked and for some reason it’s not filed under “S,” it’s filed under “G.” I swear it moves itself around so I can’t find it.

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