Wednesday October 4th 2006 - Cambridge Corn Exchange.
You would have thought that after thirty odd years they’d be very tired. You might also think that a Sparks audience would mostly be a nostalgia seeking sway of forty somethings. You would not be wrong with that latter assertion. However, any misconception that this show would consist of just feeble readings from their extensive back catalogue, was instantly dispelled by the first song. ‘Dick Around’ is a hurricane of a song about a man dumped by his girlfriend, who doesn’t know what to do with himself. Part pop song, part mini operetta, it was the first of a track by track run through of ‘Hello Young Lovers’, their twentieth album.
On this showing Sparks have lost none of their musical or lyrical acuteness.
If anything they appear to be having a renaissance. This hasn’t produced any hits and perhaps may never do. Part of their revival seems to be a reawakening of that quintessential Sparks quality of perverse originality. They’ve always been intelligent, clever word smiths and musical kleptomaniacs. This makes them very distinctive, but rarely in line with contemporary tastes.
Lyrically their subject matter is free ranging, partly fond and partly satirising aspects of male romantic behaviour. Other targets are leaden rock music and even contemporary politics in ‘Baby, baby, Can I invade your country?’
Each song was accompanied by impressive back projected visuals. These had the same touches of invention and wit we’ve come to expect from the Mael brothers. Their humour largely originates from Ron Mael, his blank faced caricature, developed over the years into being both slightly sinister and comedic. Whether he’s fighting with his screen self on ‘The very next fight’ or playing the guitar hero on ‘Rock Rock Rock’ he conveys an impish irony. Every cheek has a tongue firmly placed in it.
The first half was definitely ‘a show’ and a very cool one at that. In the second half, the gloves were off. We could finally see and hear that very tight trio of young musicians, who ably supported the Maels as they produced an hours worth of hits and oddities. Opening with ‘Achoo’, and continuing on through ‘No 1 Song in Heaven’ , ‘Something for the girl with everything’ and ‘When do I get to sing My Way?’ Their most famous song ‘This town ain’t big enough for the both of us’ was given a version of spunky gusto with a refreshing rawness. It was no weary retread. This song alone tells you why this band has remained so influential, in so many ways, over so many decades. They concluded the evening with a clutch of songs re-arranged for voice and piano ,‘Suburban Homeboy’ and a final re run of ‘Dick Around’ These displayed the quality and versatility of Ron Mael as a song writer and the youthful verve of Russell’s nimble vocals. Sparks may have become more polished by time, but their creative pulse still has a very big beat.
A version of this review was published in The Independent on 11/10/06