With a writer like Ron Mael determining the thrust of the songs, picking the cracking “Johnny Delusional” as a single was an easy thing to do. With Ron, there were many esoteric subject matters that he may delve into, but where Sparks connect with the loving public best are probably on songs that parse more easily, and the unrequited pangs of “Johnny Delusional” were F•F•S with most of the sharp edges removed for consumption. Still, the ability to inject a dispassionate “Paging Mr. Delusional, you’re wanted at the front desk” for the middle eight showed that the Maels were still investigating the institutional mindsets that resulted in songs like “Your Call’s Very Important To Us. Please Hold.”
The subsequent “Call Girl” managed to be a prize winning triple entendre. Alex Kapranos took front and center on this song, which could almost have been called “Delusional John[ny].” At first glance, it seems to reference a prostitute, but then the singer asks “why don’t you call, girl?” misdirecting our attention while it became apparent throughout the song that the target of his ardor was in fact a lady of the evening and will never call him back, no matter how much money he drops on her.
After those lighter moments, then things get nice and twisted. “Dictator’s Son” could have only been penned by Ron. Only he could pen the tale of one “born with a silver gun.” Of course, the kid had no interest in the family business and got caught up in the West’s many diversions, perhaps never to return to his homeland to foment the revolution he pictures in his mind. Instead he’s the Revolutionary Who Fell To Earth [paging Mr. Tevis to the front desk].
The band detailed a different sort of revolutionary in the darkly subdued acoustic lament “Little Guy From The Suburbs” who leaves behind a suicide note of sorts that sounds like a post-modern take on the Moody Blues [was that a Mellotron I heard].
“I’m just a little guy from the suburbs
Who learned to kill before the others
Romantic activist, I’m the joker
I say Vive le Quebec Libre.” – Little Guy From The Suburbs
After this somewhat disquieting number, then the pace picked up the energy levels with the dizzy “Police Encounters” with the tale of a perp who catches a glimpse of the policeman’s wife while at the station. Then it’s all over for him. The music here was a perfect blend of both bands. Bob Hardy’s sturdy bass line [and Ron’s string patches] anchored the kinetic rhythms of the song, which relied on berserk shaker rhythms and an infectious “Bomp bom diddy diddy – bomp bom diddy diddy” chorus. The excellent middle eight here used all sorts of crass, dubby synth wooshes that fit right in with the slightly batty song.
“Sô Desu Ne” was a sparkling piece of oriental kitsch technopop; sounding not a million miles away from early YMO and a real treat to hear. It’s deathless for describing their Japanese femme fatale as “carrying a Hello Kitty Uzi.” As with most of the songs here, it’s a real delight hearing the matchless vocal choreography that Alex Kapranos and Russell Mael engage in with harmonies and counter harmonies underfoot as each takes primacy for sometimes half a line that the other later completes. Has there ever been a fusion of decidedly different vocalists this seamless and egalitarian? And the end result sounds like neither Franz Ferdinand nor Sparks, per se.
I can’t say the same for “The Man Without A Tan, which is yet another dose of pure Sparks in the program! This number could have been pulled from any of the post- “L’il Beethoven” albums by the brothers. But the contrapuntal refrain hook [“our rugged handsomness is nooooooooo match for…”] that Kapranos crooned here would have been sadly absent in any earlier flowering of this wonderful song. Thank goodness they recorded it now instead. I also love how Ron descends to the vernacular with the line “And if he touched your woman how the Hell could she resist, I’m sure he’d entertain her with a little bit of Liszt!” Adroitly echoing the “why the Hell” chorus on their brilliant “Dick Around.” [see: “Hello Young Lovers” ca. 2006]
Next: …Climactic Agendas