Review by Brian Smith (Switch to

The self-titled debut album by Sparks is one of Todd's earliest productions and certainly one of his most intriguing. The Mael brothers have expressed their amazement and gratitude towards Todd for giving them a shot and, given the unconventionality of Russell's freakish high tenor, the subject matter of some songs, and just the overall STRANGENESS of the album, it IS somewhat surprising that Bearsville went along with Todd on this one. But while it may be far from their best work, it was (like "Runt") a truly auspicious starting point.

"Wonder Girl", the opening cut, sets the tone pretty well for the remainder of the album-- the music is oddly catchy; the sound is austere yet very "produced", with great attention to detail, ensuring that the arrangements are as interesting as the songs themselves. In the case of "Roger", the arrangement and production pick up the slack for what is an otherwise negligible tune, but other songs like the extravagant musical theatre of "High C" and the downright creepy "Fletcher Honorama" more than hold their own as compositions.

They drop the ball on side two with "Slowboat" (outright mush and poorly sung to boot) and "Biology 2" (irredeemable weirdness), but close strongly with the grand finale, "No More Mr. Nice Guy"-- the first of many Sparks songs ("BC", "Thank God it's Not Christmas", "T**ts") which address the depressing, decadent side of marital "bliss". The band rocks out here like nowhere else on the record, and the phased guitar solo is slightly reminiscent of the one on Grand Funk's "We're an American Band", a year or so later.

In retrospect, it's a shame that Todd didn't participate in any further Sparks projects. Given their inherent peculiarity and stylistic wanderlust, it would have been nice to see them cultivate a greater, more long-term artistic relationship; if anyone could have been Sparks' "George Martin", it was Todd. As this is currently only available as an import (German single; a British two-fer with their second album), I couldn't possibly recommend this without reservation; but if you like their later work AND are seriously into Todd, you owe it to yourself to check this out.

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