Finer Feelings #2: Sparks – Lil’ Beethoven (2002)

As I’ve mentioned before, Sparks are the kind of band that no one just ‘likes.’  They’re either your favorite band or you’ve never heard of them.  The musical craft of Russell and Ron Mael is unparalleled by any other musicians that have been around as long as they have.  You might think that, almost 40 years on, a band whose main fanbase lies outside of their home country would start to fall into a groove.  Indeed, Sparks’ albums through the ‘90s and early ‘00s failed to impress even their most devoted acolytes.  On those albums, particularly 2000’s Balls, the brothers Mael were particularly infatuated with the high-energy beats of synthpop and big beat (two genres they helped pioneer).  Seeing as how those styles weren’t working out, Ron and Russel switched gears in 2002, trading in electronic pulses for sampled orchestras.  Lil’ Beethoven was promoted by the band as their “career defining opus,” a description that seemed awfully fitting after only a few listens.  Rather than the jittery new wave of their handful of stateside hits, Lil’ Beethoven is a sweeping, densely textured album that is completely engrossing.  Each song is structured quite similarly, with repetitive lyrics supporting the repetitive musical phrases, yet the formula never wears thin.  The opening track, “The Rhythm Thief,” can be seen as a microcosm of the record itself: lyrics intersect with instrumentation, building and dropping out, creating new textures with each pass.  Motifs are established early in the songs, like on “How Do I Get To Carnegie Hall?,” which pays off just as you would expect.  The delicate “I Married Myself” and rousing “My Baby’s Taking Me Home” show that Russell and Ron can still vary their approach in such an experimental arrangement.  One of Sparks’ most biting songs is here, that being “Suburban Homeboy.”  A subversion of the popularity of hip-hop jargon with the affluent types, the song proves that the Maels aren’t afraid to rip into today’s culture, even if the favor isn’t returned.  For their next few albums, Sparks would further explore this melding of classical and experimental music, but the grandeur and oddity of Lil’ Beethoven trumps them all.

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~ by E. on December 3, 2009.

One Response to “Finer Feelings #2: Sparks – Lil’ Beethoven (2002)”

  1. lights out ibiza

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