The Sparks Renaissance, ( is that Wren-naissance or Run -naissance ? ) continues, with another very lively, collection of pop tunes, on their 21st album. A feat of endurance, as much as one of consistent inventiveness, which many performers half their age fail to maintain with this much virulent energy and attack beyond their third album. In contrast to 'Hello Young Lovers,' Exotic Creatures of the Deep' is less diverse in the musical styles the Mael Brothers choose to pinch, parody or parade. It has a more refined, focused punch, giving it a consistency which its predecessor did sometimes lack, due to its eclecticism. If any cost has been exacted for this, it is that it is lyrically weaker. You have to really search out the sly, dry wit, you've come to expect from Ron Mael. But it does have delights that are worth finding, such as on 'Good Morning' - about a man who wakes up one morning in bed with a woman he doesn't know. It's full of funny throwaway quips - ' I hope its just your laugh that is infectious' ,or 'Please spare me derision, I'll do my rendition, A lengthy recital, Of every song with foolish in the title.' Even songs that are less successfully conceived, such as - 'This is the Renaissance' - contain hidden gems - ' We can see the moon, We can see the stars, We can see the future and the freeways and electric cars, And they might think we're quaint, We don't really care, We've got Michelangelo and they graffiti everywhere'
It began with 'This Town ain't big enough for the both of us', and they became totally obsessed with it on the album 'Lil Beethoven', and they continue to this day, to shamelessly plunder styles from classical music. Blending them in a variety of confections with grumbling guitars and electronic throbbing beats. Set off by an unerring ability to build up songs around the simplest of riffs or hook lines. The essential idea, nay amusement, of a song is declared loudly by it's title - 'She got me (Pregnant)' - 'Lighten up Morrissey' - 'I can't believe you'd fall for all the crap in this song' - 'I've never been high.' Sometimes the humour of a song title -'I can't believe you'd fall for all the crap in this song' for instance - is all it amounts to, which can leave you feeling a little short changed. All Sparks songs explore a standard theme- male neuroses/paranoia when in a relationship - giving it yet another peculiar twist. This album can sometimes sound like its from the seventies, at other times it's on a more contemporary pulse, all the while staying within the idiosyncratic musical territory Sparks have singlehandedly carved out for themselves.
The track 'Lighten up Morrissey,' is a bit of an oddity, it seems like a remixed out take from their 'Big Beat' period, (not one of their best). Morrissey is a lifelong Sparks fan. so maybe this song is by way of a cheeky, back handed compliment. It is one of their feebler attempts at satire, it fits, to my ears, less comfortable within the musical landscape of 'Exotic Creatures of the Deep.' Here, they rummage through their own back catalogue for ideas to dust off and rehash, but what artist wouldn't this far into their career? There is a direct line of musical sympathy between 'Never turn your back on Mother Earth' and 'I've never been High'. It's never, ever a boring retread, they have always added something new, to freshen its appeal. On' Photoshop', about a spurned lover who wants to erase from memory the relationship that's failed, it explores a new use for digital technology - 'You know what your doing, Look at the acclaim, Grant me one more favour, Alter the terrain, Make it look as though I were in Hell, Or something near enough to Hell, Give it a caption of farewell, Photoshop me out of your life.'
Some day the music buying public will re-discover Sparks and realise what delights they've been missing, since their undoubtedly great 1970's Island records period. I just hope they're not retired, or well passed their best, or dead, by then.