Sparks are celebrating their post-millennial renaissance with the 21st Century Sparks collection of deluxe reissues, to be released by BMG on CD and vinyl later this spring. Balls (2000), Lil’ Beethoven (2002), and Hello Young Lovers (2006) arrive on Friday, April 29; Exotic Creatures Of The Deep(2008) and The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman (2009) follow on Friday, May 27. Today, the band shares “It’s A Sparks Show,” a previously unreleased track from the Balls reissue.
LISTEN TO “IT’S A SPARKS SHOW”
All five releases – a number of which have been out of print for years and much sought after by Sparks collectors – have been specially remastered for the 21st Century Sparks collection, with an array of bonus material – much of it previously unreleased – featured on all (excluding 2009’s ambitious radio musical, The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman). Sparks’ two most recent releases – Hippopotamus (2017) and A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip (2020) – complete the collection and are both available now.
There’s never been a better time to be a Sparks fan. Levels of interest in the work of Ron and Russell Mael are at a height unseen since their 1970s breakthrough.
2021’s acclaimed career-spanning documentary film, The Sparks Brothers, brought an awareness of Sparks to parts they previously hadn’t reached. Their 2021 film musical Annette, has been showered with award, including “Best Original Music” for Ron and Russell. The ultimate cult band are suddenly centre stage, in the full beam of the spotlight.
Most people, with even a passing acquaintance with Sparks, will know the basics by now. How Californian brothers Ron and Russell Mael, both students at UCLA, began making music together in the late Sixties, originally under the name Halfnelson. How their Top Of The Pops debut with “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us” stunned a generation and nearly scored them a UK #1. How their career moved through many phases, including (but not limited to) art rock, glam, big band swing, electro-disco, new wave, and synthpop, taking in collaborations with Todd Rundgren, Les Rita Mitsouko, Tony Visconti, and Giorgio Moroder, and Franz Ferdinand, to name but a few.
How keyboardist and songwriter Ron’s intricate staccato arrangements combine with the hysteria-pitch falsetto in which Russell delivers his brother’s always-on-point lyrics. How Ron’s stillness and stern, intimidating visage contrasts onstage with Russell’s hyperactivity. How their popularity has spiked unpredictably in different territories at different times: Britain, France, Germany, Scandinavia, Japan, and their homeland the United States. And how the influence of “the greatest band you’ve never heard of” or “your favorite band’s favorite band” has been recognized by successive generations of artists from Joy Division to Duran Duran to Depeche Mode to Björk to Beck to The Darkness and beyond.
If there’s a gap in the knowledge of Sparks newcomers or even long-term admirers, it might be the early 21st century, that crucial period in the 2000s between the “Crackerjack Years” of their first flushes of fame and their current success, when the duo rediscovered their muse and released some of their finest albums.
The 21st Century Sparks collection of deluxe reissues – as well as their more recent studio releases Hippopotamus (2017) and A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip (2020) – plot out the path of an extraordinary renaissance for the Mael brothers.
Now into their sixth decade of making music, Sparks have never been more relevant. The 21st Century Sparks collection shows exactly how they got here.