AT HOME, AT WORK, AT PLAY: A listener’s guide to Sparks’ first 20 albums by Ned Raggett (Arthur No. 29/May 2008)

Originally published in Arthur No. 29 (May 2008) (which also featured a lengthy interview with the Maels), available from the Arthur Store

At Home, At Work, At Play
A listener’s guide to Sparks’ first 20 albums by Ned Raggett

There aren’t many recording artists in their fourth decade of recorded work whose new albums consistently merit not only attention but, more often than not, a round of applause. But Sparks were an unusual band from the start, so perhaps, perversely, their virtually unprecedented no-fade career arc is to be expected. The full story of the musical partnership of brothers Ron and Russell Mael is worthy of a thick book or two (or at least a really good documentary), but the basic body of their musical work—20 studio albums preceding their newest, the forthcoming Exotic Creatures of the Deep—can at least be talked about here. Not all are front-to-back classics, some may not even be keepers, but the standard of excellence is so high, the continuous artistic risk-taking so audacious, and the number and range of artists they’ve inspired in the last 35 years so vast—from Queen to Morrissey to Pet Shop Boys to Faith No More to Bjork to Franz Ferdinand—that even the rare misstep deserves examination. Onward, then…

SPARKS (1972)
Though L.A. performances and a number of demos helped get the initial word out about their distinctly unusual take on pop and rock—the demos still for the most part unreleased, though noted Sparks freak Morrissey has showcased a couple here and there over the years via compilations and show intro tapes—it was the self-titled debut album that first brought the Maels and company into the public eye.
Getting Todd Rundgren as producer was key. Probably no one else in America had both the relatively high profile to get the recording ball rolling and the artistic appreciation for the curious yet compellingly catchy pop the Maels and their band were creating. Balanced between a whimsical fragility and a dramatic rock punch that stacks up to any proto-metal group of the era, it’s not merely the tension between the sides that makes Sparks’ first album so memorable, it’s the fact that it’s so instantly enjoyable.
If, as the story goes, opening track “Wonder Girl” was a hit in Montgomery Alabama and nowhere else, it wasn’t because it couldn’t be hummed. It can. The band’s whole approach can be heard in this single song: the intentional use of a cliché in the title, Russell’s sweet-with-a-twist-of-sour singing (then and now, one of the most uniquely beautiful vocals in modern pop), Ron’s sprightly keyboards and lyrics which are sunny only if you’re not listening closely. But it’s also a tour de force of production—listen to the crisp hits of Harvey Feinstein’s cymbals and the almost electronic smack of the beats. On the rest of Sparks, songs change tempo on a dime, harmonies swirl in and out of nowhere, strutting rock snarling melts into boulevardier swing, with the monstrous album closer “(No More) Mr. Nice Guys” rocking just as hard as the similarly-titled song by Alice Cooper that it predates. The sense of theatricality so integral to Sparks is already present, but this is as far away from the inanities of such ‘rock’ Broadway efforts as Rent as you can get—and thank heavens for it. The whole shebang really is art rock without apology.
Note: This album was released under the original band name of Halfnelson, with the brothers then switching to Sparks after the prompting of their then-manager/label head Albert Grossman, who was convinced this was the key to success. There have been stranger solutions.

In some ways A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing is the first album redux. Unchanged lineup, same number of songs, and the first song on the album is, again, about a girl. But this time the stakes were a little higher:

Oh, no! Bring her home and the folks look ill
My word, they can’t forget, they never will
They can hear the stormtroops on our lawn
When I show her in…

Imagine that being sung by Russell with an almost sweetly diffident air over a chugging rhythm, with a chorus that soars down to the backing pseudo-Col. Bogey whistles and you’ve got “Girl From Germany,” one of the wickedest songs ever. From there Woofer’s could do whatever it damn well pleased, and did. Beergarden polka singalongs crossed with minimal drones that transmute into a rapid roll of drums, frenetic high-speed instrumentation and a mock Mickey Mouse-style letter-by-letter cheerleader/gangshout for the titular character, “Beaver O’Lindy.” A tune called “The Louvre” sung, but of course, in French, sounding—at least initially—like a random 1968 Beach Boys number drop-kicked across the Atlantic, trailing sparkling keyboards in its wake. A concluding song, “Whippings and Apologies,” begins like Stereolab warming up for a 20-minute freakout and then keeps stop-starting—including a great fake ending —so Russell can discuss the situations a tender-hearted sadist must face. “Do-Re-Mi”—yes, THAT “Do-Re-Mi,” from The Sound of Music, not one of the lyrics changed, turns into a high-speed gallop halfway through the second repetition of the words and gets even more over the top after that point. Nearly the whole album is so insanely fractured, and once again, so astonishingly catchy, that it’s hard to know what to highlight.
At the heart of the album lies “Moon Over Kentucky,” the only song bassist Jim Mankey wrote for the band (with Ron sharing the credit), and arguably the landmark of the first incarnation of Sparks. It’s all five members at their most dramatic, with the opening piano and wordless vocals given a steady, darker counterpoint with Mankey’s bass. This gets contrasted with verses shot through with a nervous keyboard rhythm, Feinstein’s rolling drums and a snarling riff that sounds like a Tony Iommi line delivered in two seconds. Russell yodels like a lost ghost somewhere in the woods and the end result feels like what Nelson Eddy and Jeanette Macdonald would have done if James Whale had directed one of their films, down to the horror-movie organ final flourish.

What to say about an album that endless amounts of musicians openly refer to as a touchstone? The one that was Bjork’s first record she bought with her own money (“My mum and my stepdad didn’t like it and I did, so that was my statement.”), the album that turned Morrissey into the massive fan he is (“Ron Mael’s lyrical take on sex cries out like prison cell carvings. It is only the laughing that stops the crying. Russell sings his words in what appear to be French italics, and has less facial hair than Josephine Baker.”), the album with the cabaret-rock-opera sound that Queen, who were opening for Sparks at the time, would appropriate immediately? Where to begin? Easy—the beginning.
It starts, not like a thunderclap, but like a gentle shimmer of spring rain, a keyboard figure easing up in volume step by step. Then a voice zooms in, almost but never once tripping over itself at high speed, building up to the briefest pause, and then: “This town ain’t big enough for both of us!” A massive pistol shot rockets across the speaker range. “AND IT AIN’T ME WHO’S GONNA LEAVE!” The full band kicks in and it is all OVER. And it’s only just begun.
Kimono My House shouldn’t have been; had Ron and Russell decided not to take the chance they did in moving to London and signing to Island Records after initial UK appearances before the release of Woofer turned out splendidly, it wouldn’t have been. They did, and “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both of Us” crashed into the UK Top Five in early 1974 and what had been a low-key pleasure for some turned into pop star mania. Tales of suicides happily singing down to girlfriends in the still-living world, celebrations of the most exclusive genealogical background ever (concluding with “Gonna hang myself from my family tree”) and specifically uncelebratory non-holiday carols were suddenly all the rage. The lunatics hadn’t taken over the asylum, but their observers were genii at portraying their foibles in entertaining form.
The new backing band—guitarist Adrian Fisher, bassist Martin Gordon and drummer Dinky Diamond—weren’t necessarily as outré as the first, but as a crackerjack combo, perfectly in tune with the over-the-top glam hysteria of the day, they were essential. “This Town” is just one example of many songs displaying Ron’s ever-increasing compositional talents—consider other smash U.K. singles like “Amateur Hour,” with its quick, ascending main guitar line completely working against the typical descending rock melodies of the time and place, or “Talent Is an Asset,” a music-box riff accompanied by hand-clapping and foot-stomping rhythms celebrating the young life of one Albert Einstein. If Ron’s keyboards often times seemed drowned in the mix of the songs that he himself wrote, they weren’t absent—the organ adding further beef to the mix of “Here in Heaven,” the combination barrelhouse R&B swing and cabaret glow on the concluding “Equator.” Perhaps the album’s most emblematic song was “Hasta Manana, Monsieur,” with its lovely piano melody at the start and Russell’s bravura extended vocal break towards the end … oh, and the words too:

Leaving my syntax back at school
I was thrown for a loss over gender and simple rules
You mentioned Kant and I was shocked
You know, where I come from, none of the girls have such foul tongues.

And that was just one verse.

Propaganda—featuring the band’s first outright classic album cover, showing the Maels as bound and gagged kidnap victims—was a logical follow-on from Kimono, much as Woofer’s had continued onward from the debut. The producer remained the same. The backing band jiggled a bit, with Ian Hampton replacing Martin Gordon on bass and Trevor White starting to handle the guitar. (Queen’s Brian May alleges the Maels tried to persuade him to join them by proclaiming his band were “washed up”—which makes that group’s Sparks-like breakthrough hit “Killer Queen” all the more eyebrow-raising.) Otherwise Sparks kept up the same glam-rampage approach. But here, everything was more in sync then ever.
The album begins with something new—an a cappela performance from Russell, his overdubbed singing providing wordless melody and rhythm as well as words, packing wartime slogans, militaristic imagery and that thing called love into about 20 seconds. Then a stentorian delivery from the full band heralds “At Home At Work At Play,” whose combination of volume, giddiness, hyperspeed melodies and Sparks-trademarked tempo shifts and pauses is clear evidence that by this time Sparks had come pretty close to being sui generis. Even songs like “BC,” which on this album feels just a touch like a “typical” Sparks number, would be utterly atypical for practically anyone else.
There’s a winsome jauntiness on Propaganda at points, musically if not necessarily lyrically, almost as if Ron and Russell were creating World War II vaudeville singalongs for their temporarily adopted home country. “Reinforcements,” playing around again with ideas of love and/as war, almost begs a high-kicking chorus line to back Russell on stage. In a different vein entirely is a power ballad of the most arch sort, “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth,” which has it all: strings, heroic guitar solo, a lot of background echo (check out the drums at the end!), Ron on what must be harpsichord, and a beautifully alien mid-song break where Russell sings in fragile tones over heavily flanged violins. On the lyrical front, Ron’s eye for the knowing cliché in the title again reigned supreme—besides “At Home At Work At Play,” we get “Thanks But No Thanks,” “Something For the Girl With Everything” and the concluding “Bon Voyage.” And then there’s “Achoo,” probably the only song in existence with a sneeze as its title. And even if it isn’t, it’s definitely the only one that starts, “Who knows what the wind’s gonna bring when the invalids sing.”

Indiscreet ended up being the conclusion of Ron and Russell’s first run of hit UK albums, as well as their English residency. If nothing else, they wrapped it up in style, working with an emblematic producer of the era—fellow US expatriate Tony Visconti, whose collaborations with T. Rex and David Bowie helped define the times as much as anything. It turned out to be an inspired combination as Visconti’s ear for orchestral arrangements, familiar from T. Rex’s many singles, was in top form. The result is a rich sounding album, a big-budget effort that doesn’t sound overblown. Continue reading

SERIOUS FUN: Sparks, interviewed by Chris Ziegler and Kevin Ferguson (Arthur No. 29/May 2008)

Originally published in Arthur No. 29 (May 2008) (which also featured a massive Sparksography by Ned Raggett), available from the Arthur Store

Chris Ziegler and Kevin Ferguson visit veteran sui generis pop duo SPARKS in L.A. as they prepare to perform their 240-song oeuvre in a single month-long London engagement in May. “We’re actually better than we thought,” say the brothers Mael…

Sparks have about 60 days to finish learning the five million notes necessary to reproduce live their entire 38-year discography—20 old albums, select b-sides, one new album, and a special song for anyone willing to buy tickets for the entire month-long event in London—but brothers Russell and Ron Mael remain relaxed and ready in Russell’s home studio, where a portrait of Elvis watches over rehearsals so intense that Russell can’t stop singing his songs even in his dreams. Brand-new album Exotic Creatures Of The Deep will debut live this summer in London after prior nights each dedicated to an existing Sparks album—a marathon physically and psychologically and an occasion to revisit a band almost totally untangled from the industry music mess just miles away from Russell’s Los Angeles home…

Arthur: Ron said that you’ll be playing 4,825,623 notes during the complete 21-show run. That works out to about 230,000 notes per album and maybe 34 notes per second. Does that seem accurate?
Russell: On some of the early albums it’s probably true—the Island albums are probably 64 notes per second. Those were really hyper.

Did doing that kind of statistical analysis on your lifetime of work reveal any greater truths?
Ron: It’s actually a leveling. A lot of the ones we had maybe less love for are kind of good in retrospect. It would have been sad to go back and realize they weren’t very good.
Russell: Fortunately that wasn’t the case.
Ron: But we are prejudiced.
Russell: We’re actually better than we thought.

So you’re not nervous.
Ron: We’re still nervous. It’s awesome.

Awesome in the sense that building a pyramid is awesome?
Ron: On all kinds of levels. It’s like going back to school. We haven’t even heard most of the songs for 20 or 30 years, and most of them we never played live anyway, so part of the process was figuring out how to do that. We couldn’t cut any corners—we’re doing everything, including a lot of b-sides as well. We’re figuring out how to be true to the original records and doing it live. It’s a good concert experience.

Are you offering any kind of Sparks Value Pack for the entire run?
Russell: The golden ticket! For that you also get—we’re gonna record one song and give a CD of this one song to the people that choose to dedicate an entire month of their lives to Sparks. That warrants receiving a song that no one else will get.
Ron: And there’s gonna be at least one book or maybe two about the whole experience afterward, and we’re thinking if we can get up the energy, we’ll try to keep a journal.

Why no hometown show in Los Angeles?
Ron: We have a larger following in London. It’s so expensive to put this on that the only viable way was to do it in London.

Will you be including any Sparks alumni in the live bands?
Russell: Each of the bands had a certain character to them—someone even suggested it’d be great if we had each of those bands. In a conceptual way, that’s good. In a practical way, I don’t know if it would work. It’s a real test to find people—the fans who are going to spend a month of their lives with us, and then for the band, musicians who want to stick it out for three-and-a-half months of preparation, which is unheard of. When you prepare for tour, you have maybe 20 songs, and this is 240. And you might say, ‘Oh, that’s not so hard,’ but when you think of songs on the albums that fade out and you have to have an ending for that song now. To figure things like that out times 240 is so time-consuming. Just the sheer volume you have to digest.

Are you dreaming Sparks songs yet?
Russell: I’m singing songs when I wake up—I swear. And it’s not a happy dream. It’s like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t even shut them off!’

Can you think of an equivalent to the total creative energy invested in the Sparks discography? Half a cathedral or the Pennsylvania tablet from the Epic of Gilgamesh?
Ron: It could never be done by a visual artist, really—we don’t feel like we’re doing imitation, and we don’t see them as finished, necessarily. When we play live, we’re kind of inventing them again. You hear of classical musicians that do a composer’s complete piano works—that kind of thing. But this is kind of trickier. I don’t know for a fact because I’ve never done that, but it seems like more things are involved.
Russell: We’d be allowed to read music, but we don’t read music.

Continue reading

C and D: Two guys bro down over some new records (Arthur No. 21/Mar 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 21 (March 2006)

C and D: Two guys bro down over some new records

D: I’m looking at the stack of stuff we’re going to talk about and I am noticing an absence this time round of certain records, or styles, that I am particularly fond of. I am worried about the lack of brash super-volume riff-monster guitar and backbeat.
C: Well D, the way I look at it is: We certainly can’t review everything that we come across—who has the energy for that? And we can’t even cover everything that’s obviously worthy—there’s just not enough space. So it’s a bit down to what most interests us at the moment. As Allen Ginsberg pointed out, “Mark Van Doren used to write book reviews for the Herald Tribune and almost every one of the reviews was intelligent and sympathetic; he was always talking about something absolutely marvelous. I said, ‘What do you do with a book you don’t like?’ and he said, ‘Why should I waste my time writing about something I’m not interested in?’” And anyways, don’t worry. There’s some riffs on the way.

D: [Listening to “Sewn One”] Hmm… Could it be the mighty Growing?
C: Close, but no cigar. This is Mountains, a duo from New York who I only recently became aware of because Mr. Plastic Crimewave selected them to play at his 2 Million Tongues festival. Their second album. A nice electrical nature hum. I’ve also been hanging out recently in the mountains, so I feel a special affection for them automatically.
D: An orchestral shower with the warm drone reminiscent of Herr Klaus Schulze on the synthesizer.
C: And then, little acoustic guitar lines and horn tones, foregrounded, or deeply backgrounded. It’s pretty great isn’t it? Total mama nature kids in a low-wattage electronic garden. Reminds me of what Ginsberg’s “great peaceful lovebrain” would sound like, slowly comfortably spinning drifting slowly in eternal wombspace. An alternate soundtrack to Silent Running‘s opening sequence, or a lost instrumental Talk Talk aria…
D: You’ve been on quite a Ginsberg kick lately.
C: [smiles beatifically] Why bother to paraphrase already perfectly put words of wisdom? I say quotate away til we have something new to say… I like to listen to this at Arthur HQ with the windows and front door open, hoping birds will fly by or neighborhood animals will walk in, and we can all be at peace together, for once… Of course, it’s also useful to drown out the car alarms and sirens and lawnmowers and leafblowers and helicopters. It’s not sentimental flashy hot leftbrain human, not cold technical rightbrain robot: strictly ahuman, objective in a naturalist’s sense.

C: Continuing in the rural mode…
D: Psychedelic canyon and meadow music such was made in ye olde ’70s! [starts air guitaring to closing ascending twin electric guitar line of “Seasons Don’t Fear the Year”]
C: They’re really nailing that rich acoustic-electric rolling tabla honey harmony sound that all those heavy bands—Sabbath and Zeppelin, especially—used to do, back when all the best musicians were inspired by what the Incredible String Band were doing, and were still able (or willing) to express a feminine side to go with their preening barbarian or depressive wail aspects…
D: [reminisces] When the maidens were fair and wore flowers in their hair instead of covering themselves in tattoos and piercings. I am awaiting Sandy Denny’s entrance at any moment.
C: Total “Battle of Evermore” vibe, especially on “Nice Cuffs.”
D: Nice title. I also like this one: “What Never Was and What Should Have Been.”
C: More like “What Always Is and Will Ever Be.” This is an album without a sell-by date, with a song for every season.
D: [listening to “Shalom of Safed”] Monumental. Like the best parts of Deep Purple and the Moody Blues and Pink Floyd.
C: Making music for horse-drawn sledrides thru the driving snow to the lodge in the distance, where pale ale and a fireplace and friends are…
D: [10 minutes later] Was that all one song?

The Duke Spirit
Cuts Across the Land
D: [listening to “Stubborn Stitches”] Could it be Heartless Bastards?
C: Yeah, a little eh? It’s actually the first album from an English band, three blokes with a woman in front who does have a voice not too far from Ms. Bastards, or Ms. The Kills, or Ms. Polly Harvey, or here, on “Darling You’re Mean” …
D: Great title!
C: …which opens like an old Spacemen 3 or Spiritualized tune, she’s got that Hope Sandoval reverbian thing going on, but she doesn’t just mope-pout, she howls too. Pretty standard tunes but a great voice and an interest in building to liftoff, repeatedly. The band reminds me a little of their contemporaries and fellow Englishpeople the 22-20s here and there, which of course takes us back to The Gun Club and X. And I also hear, especially on “You Were Born Inside My heart”…
D: ANOTHER great title!
C: …the sound of Come, of the great Thalia Zedek, an underappreciated true believer voice of blues trauma/”I’m having an episode” rock & roll darkside… This music says: jeans and threads, fringes and belt buckles, whiskey and sunglasses, late nights and tough mornings.
D: They strike me as… promising.
C: What do they promise?
D: Dirty glares, at first. But later? [smiles] Sex with slapping.
C: ….

Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan
Ballad of the Broken Seas
D: [listening to “The False Husband”] Well the obvious recent comparison would be that Nick Cave & Kylie Minogue song on Murder Ballads. Also Serge Gainsbourg and Ms. Bardot, or Lee Hazelwood songs, or Jimmy Webb, or Johnny Cash…
C: It has a classic vintage feel. There’s a real string section (which more artists should do instead of cheaping it out with the synthesizer), and a darkness and a ’60s country and western duet swirl to it, with an almost inappropriately sexkittenish breathy femme voice—
D: Julee Cruise. Or, Marilyn Monroe singing to the president—
C: She’s a better singer than that, but you get the feeling listening to this—
D: [smiling broadly, with raised eyebrows] I get many feelings listening to this—
C: I have no doubt that you do, but anyways you get the feeling that she’s holding back singing, doesn’t trust her voice so much as she should. But her reticence doesn’t hurt her here because the songs are so accomplished, and she’s got Mr. Mark Lanegan, probably our nation’s greatest wounded survivor voice, to harmonize and duet with.
D: And they’re all HER songs! Interesting…
C: Except for “Revolver,” a really spooky nighttime shortness-of-breath anxiety thing written by Lanegan, and a clever reworking of Mr. Cash’s “Ramblin’ Man.” Yeah, how often do you see women writing for men anymore? It’s great. Lullabies and laments, offers and pleas, thoughtfully arranged with appropriate decor: a fiddle here, reverbed tabla there, an instrumental intermission at just the right point.
D: Which could have been a track on the Citay album!
C: And the pop tune here — “Honey Child What Can I Do?” is pure singalong AM radio gold.The album closer—”The Circus Is Leaving Town”—is an all-timer for closing time.
D: This is the kind of heartsong Tom Waits used to write.
C: What a song, what lyrics, what a melody, what a feel. I wish we could run all the lyrics for this: “The party’s over now/stop howling at the moon/you need a different beat/you need a different tune/Remember that old song/we had when we were young/Life was an empty page/the world would write upon/Do you recall the meadow grass, we’d sit and watch the hours pass/ You were such a good girl then/Oh Ruby dry your eyes/The circus is leaving town/Oh Ruby, roll your stockings down…” When Lanegan sings, “You could make me think/the sun sets in the east” and then hums at the end? Whew!
D: That’s when you know a singer knows how good a song is. When he still wants to sing it even when there’s no more words to sing.
C: Obviously, hopefully, this is just the beginning of a beautiful, enduring partnership.

Beth Orton
Comfort of Strangers
D: Wow. Total laugh-cry masterpiece triumph to the 32nd degree. And I was never a huge fan. What happened?
C: Maybe a weekend at Esalen helped? Who knows. It’s a huge creative breakthrough, for sure, on every level. There’s more good words in the first minute of the album than most songwriters come up with in their entire career. And the music is tremendous, really dry and warm and thought-out.
D: It’s called craft at service to a group of great songs.
C: Maybe it’s down to the guys she’s working with—Tim Barnes on drums, Jim O’Rourke on other instruments and production—but it seems like they totally gelled creatively in a way where it doesn’t really matter how it happened. I mean, O’Rourke was involved with those Judee Sill records finally seeing the light of day last year, and I can hear echoes of her work here—that melancholy, that minor joy, those major choruses in spite of everything, that lovely canyon feel, etc. So it makes sense. Still… Man, every song is a hit. Listen to the breakdown on the chorus of “Rectify.” Amazing. Only a live band can do that. Same thing on “Shopping Trolley,” which is practically anthemic, with zero cheese content, and “Heart of Soul,” which she just BELTS. Amazing. Bare music, bare soul. I’m crying here!
D: Coffeehouse denizens of America rejoice, we have a new masterpiece to sip our lattes to.

Belle & Sebastian
The Life Pursuit
D: [singing along to “Act of the Apostle Part 1] “What would I do in Germany?” I find myself wondering that sometimes.
C: [smugly] I have no doubt that you do.
D: Enough with the sarcasm, you, or there may be damages! [listening to “Another Sunny Day”] Who is this?
C: Belle & Sebastian, from Scotland. Your friend Isobel Campbell used to be in this group.
D: I don’t recall them being this fun.
C: Yeah, it’s total record store pop, isn’t it? Almost like Ween in its variety and craft, when you think about it. Just a ton of styles they didn’t have mastered before: 12-string Byrds country-soul, Gary Glitter glam beat with Sweet-style melodies and harmonies, upbeat melodic Creedence chug rock & roll, a stylish Jam dance number, a Stevie Wonder Synclavier summer sunpop hit, all sung in choirboy stylee. Lotsa great music hall stuff, but it’s all perfect for a stylish afternoon-into-evening garden party.
D: Rufus Wainwright, eat your heart out.
C: Clever observational storytelling lyrics too, which they’ve always done well. “Sukie in the Graveyard” is Sly & the Family Stone-style organ riff funk with Kinks kharacter lyrics and long-line melody. “Funny Little Frog” takes me back to Pulp, who I dearly miss.
D: “For the Price of a Cup of Tea” is an undeniable number one hit in the harmony pop heaven of my inner music-lover mind.
C: …

Hello Young Lovers
(In the Red)
C: [listening, slackjawed] …
D: [listening, eyes bulging] …
C: Talk about genius.
D: Talk about masterpiece.
C: How do you even start to talk about this?
D: I’ve never heard anything like it.
C: The best I can say is if you ever liked Sparks—any of their many, many startling inventive endlessly idiosyncratic innovator phases during the last 30 (!) years—this will destroy you. And if you never liked Sparks, ever, you need this, just to know that pop music, pop lyrics, pop personae could be so much…MORE.
D: They should be on the cover of Arthur.
C: Stop the presses!
D: I gotta say I didn’t see this one coming.
C: A surprise knockout in the 20th round! Or, in Sparks’ case, the 20th album.
D: [opens window, yells outside to passers-by] C and D are down for the count! [pause] Again!