Saturday, June 19, 2010

Why there always has to be subterfusion

There is a quote attributed to John Lennon regarding an appearance by Sparks on British TV in 1974. "It's Hitler on the telly" was his supposed response the Ron Mael's toothbrush moustache. I remember watching the band on "In Concert" in that same year. My dad - a blue collar guy if there ever was one - walked into the living room and amazed my brother and me by watching all of their performance. He still mentions it occasionally.

I have no doubt that the Mael brothers were using every trick in the book to get noticed. After all this was their shot at the big time. They had two big hit singles in the UK earlier in the year and their offbeat stage personas had worked well amongst the oddities of UK pop music at that time. Glam glitter and gold lame were all the rage. Ron sat behind the electronic keyboard like Charlie Chaplin on tranquilizers while pouty-lipped brother Russell pranced around the stage with his poodle dog haircut bouncing in rhythm to the beat. Needless to say the effect did not translate to sales or radio play in the USA.

For me their first two Island albums are little treasures of pop depravity. The excellent lead guitarist and talented bassist from Kimono My House were jettisoned when their suggestions for a musical direction threatened the Mael's stranglehold on the band. Waiting in the wings was Trevor White, perhaps my favorite glam-era guitarists ever. His work throughout Propaganda is full of pyrotechnical somersaults, and the producer put that sound front-and-center in a way that was never allowed again on a Sparks recording.

Reinforcements consists of a verse melody that could have been composed by Kurt Weill and a rock chorus that is driven by an insistent guitar chord. The double entendre of the lyrics are a hoot, with comparisons of the sexual appetite of the singer's girlfriend Denise to the lexicon of armies going to war. At 2:04 the chorus repeats, each time building with more energy until the guitar nearly explodes, then at 2:36 the bottom drops out. What comes next is one of those unexpectedly divine moments that pop music can sometimes deliver. The verse harmony recurs, but instead of lyrics it is accompanied by a softly sung vocalise, a lovely guitar counterpoint, and a background chorus. Then on the second time through it is joined by the guitar and even more counter vocal lines. And then it repeats just enough times to linger in my head for hours afterwards. Imagine God Only Knows mutated into a twisted glam cacophony.


tbrough said...

Oh, how I love this song. And I also remember the In Concert Sparks show, in particular, "Disneyland On Parade."

Skaputziner said...

It is so?