Cult legends never die; this is something that can absolutely be said in the case of Ron and Russel Mael, or as you know them (or don’t know them) Sparks. The Los Angeles based duo have been carving out a huge musical identity for themselves since 1968. It can be a daunting task getting into a band with a career as long as this and a discography that spans 23 studio records – including last years beyond stellar and underrated FFS collaboration record with Scottish Nu-wave revivalists Franz Ferdinand (which led to my exposure to Sparks). But Sparks pays off in huge dividends, and a great entry point is this record right here: 1979’s No.1 In Heaven.
For those who are uninitiated or have never even heard of this band before, you can take a record like this as both a perfect representation of what Sparks sounds like and, well, not what they sound like. Both at the same time. Sparks’s releases prior to No. 1 In Heaven mostly consist of big sounding rock’n roll records with strong elements of glam rock thrown in. And backed with unorthodox and hilarious vocal work from Russel Mael, on paper it would seem Sparks had the potential to be a widely known act. But while the Brits certainly took to them, not so much in their native United States.
As for No. 1 In Heaven, the vocal work from those previous Sparks’s records is present, but what makes this different is the production of Italio- Disco extraordinaire Giorgio Moroder. (“I Feel Love” anyone?) This combining of styles from both the artist and producer is what makes No. 1 such an enjoyable and great record.
Right from the get-go, opener “Tryouts For The Human Race” sounds like a song that could be played at the type of 70’s disco environment Moroder is legendary for being associated with. That said, once the Mael brothers’s come into play it is undoubtedly a Sparks track. Endlessly listenable. The entire record is this way; especially on the day-glow beauty and orchestral pop of album highlight “My Other Voice” . For an album that is approaching 37 years of age No. 1 In Heaven exhibits the great deal of influence that it still has on indie acts today. This is an album with staying power, much like the music on the record itself is undeniable.
I hereby tag Amy for next weeks review. Hi Amy!
Writer, blogger, record collector/music fanatic, comic book junkie, jerkstore/all around nice dude from the south suburbs of Chicago