Review (27 October 2002): The Independent

THE INDEPENDENT By Simon Price 27 October 2002 “Are Sparks the most underrated band of all time? Ron and Russell Mael may have inspired artists as varied as Suede, The Associates, Pulp, New Order, Hawksley Workman, Siouxsie, Fischerspooner and The Smiths (Morrissey once stalked them, and kept a piece of half-eaten toast from Russell’s breakfast table), but they are seldon namedropped among lists of pop’s pioneers. One reason is that, on the occasions when they have interlocked with the zeitgeist, it’s usually been by accident. Eternally anomalous, they are, as Taylor Parkes of Melody Maker described them, “a straight, American band, with a gay European aesthetic”. Despite the material’s unfamiliarity – the first half of tonight’s show is a sequential run through their excellent new album Lil’ Beethoven – it never gets boring. Russell, the ludicrously handsome singer with the hysterical falsetto, and Ron, the “Hitler One” who frightened as many 1970s infants as the Daleks, don’t just play the songs but enact them. Ron never stops moving, chasing a projected “bride” around and playing his Roland synthesiser (logo doctored to read “Ronald”) with 10ft-long prosthetic arms. Stand-out tracks are the arch”Rhythm Thief” (in which a chorus cackles “Oh no where did the groove go? Lights out, Ibiza!”), the witty nu-metal pastiche “What Are All These Bands So Angry About?” and “Your Call Is Very Important To Us, Please Hold”, which magnifies the robotic voice of an automated telephone system into an epic drama. But then, archness, absurdness, wit and drama are second nature to the Maels as the hits-packed second half demonstrates. As proof we get “Something For A Girl With Everything”, their excuisite updating of “A Partridge In A Pear Tree” and naturally, the staccato operatic paranoia of “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us”, which is – as its own lyric puts it – the thunder of stampeding rhinos, elephants and tacky tigers. And nothing less.”