Review: UNCUT

UNCUT Double visionaries Kooks who pre-empted synthpop go neo-classical after 2000’s lacklustre Balls Sparks LIL’ BEETHOVEN *** This is SPARKS 19th album, the follow-up proper to 1994’s Gratuitous Sax..,, and one might be forgiven for saying ‘So what?”, since their work after their 1970s heyday has am-acted mostly cult attention. The surprise with Lil Beethoven is that there’s no attempt to ingratiate with easily assimilable songs. Instead, the Maels have gone for a nakedly experimental method, a highly conceptualised album that sounds like a collaboration between Philip Glass and David Byrne with further input from Laurie Anderson. The material consists of staccato and arpeggiated strings and keyboards which set up neoclassical contexts for the vocal happenings. Few of these nine tracks can be called songs in the ordinary sense. Rather, they’re chants made up of mostly short and simple lyric and melodic phrases, eked out by endless repetitions of them in varying modular permutations. Opener “The Rhythm Thief declares “Say goodbye to the beat / Lights out Ibiza and, in fact an orthodox drum-kit sound features on only two of the album’s constituent pieces. The satirical intent is clear enough here but it becomes less so as things proceed, ‘How Do I Get to Carnegie Hall?” consists almost entirely of the title phrase and the answer “Practice, man, practice”, The joke (of making this old joke central) wears thin long before the track’s over leaving the listener wondering what sort of response is being invoked. With many of the vocals almost devoid of expression, the lyrics frequently sound like announcements, set against a sort of Nazi surrealist background of pumping strings, clanking keyboards and parping trumpets. It’s a bravely avant-garde endeavour ameliorated by a continual dry irony that raises the occasional smile, Mostly, though, the results are mystifying, Be warned: it’s challenging stuff.