It's overlong and maybe too detailed but fan boys and girls will love this trip through Sparks' past, present, and future
The world and their mother and quite possibly their kitchen sinks turn up to pay homage to LA art pop duo Sparks in this extended fan boy letter from Baby Driver and Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright.
Sparks are brothers Ron and Russell Mael and they've been playing court jesters to the mainstream with their strange and seductive avant garde Euro pop for over fifty years and boy, have they been influential. Not terribly commercially successful this past while but yes, definitely influential.
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This point is laboured to the point of irritating monotony in Wright’s overlong and repetitive film to a degree that you’ll feel like you’re trapped in a particularly rabid Sparks fan convention. Or worse, being forced to listen to a bunch of music luvvies tripping over themselves to out homage each other.
Still, you’ve got to admire Wright’s enthusiasm for the brothers as he peels apart all 25 albums of the duo’s half century of maverick pop, from breakout hits like This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us and their fantastic 1979 smash hit collaboration with Giorgio Moroder The Number One Song in Heaven, to their current status as elder statesmen of weird brain pop. The film’s tagline says, "50 years, 25 albums, 345 songs" and the same sense of devil may care excess was clearly Wright’s mission statement.
Sparks first made an impact on this side of the Atlantic with an unforgettable appearance on Top of The Pops in 1974. Keyboardist Ron, as scary as a Dalek, sported a neatly trimmed Hitler moustache and looked like a sinister organ grinder to pretty boy Russell as he struck pop heart throb poses.
Sparks talk to Dave Fanning about The Sparks Brothers
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That moment is anchored in the minds of the multitude of famous faces from the worlds of music, literature, and film who rock up here to doff their caps. They include Beck, Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers, a couple of Durans, former pop wunderkind Todd Rundgren, Vince Clarke, and Neil Gaiman and just in case we aren’t getting the point about Sparks’ unsung brilliance, Wright himself pops up on camera to declaim their importance and basically repeat what everyone has already said.
There is plenty of archive footage of the brothers' idyllic childhood in LA and their pop culture hinterland and while Ron and Russell are hardly Noel and Liam or Ray and Dave, for some reason Wright has chosen to leave the duo's inner lives unexplored and doesn’t ask if half a century of living in each other’s pockets has led to friction and tension.
Dare I say it but there have been better pop duos and the whole time you may be wondering why one of the most successful pop duos of all time aren’t here to blurt out their undying love for Sparks. However, that’s all cleared up when we learn that Pet Shop Boys have always studiously refused to acknowledge their obvious debt to Ron and Russell. Very funny and very Pet Shop Boys.
A little less of a love-in and a shorter running time would have made this a far better rock doc. As it is, it’s an endurance test that doesn’t beat the clock but may have you watching it.
Alan Corr @CorrAlan2