[…continued from last post]
The delicate ballad “Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil” took a fascinating look at women like Madame Mao or Hillary Clinton, who live next to immense power. The downtempo track haunted me. Where had I heard this vibe before, then after much intense concentration, it struck me. The track was very close to Billy MacKenzie’s “Outernational.” The music bed and production was really quite similar, thought the lyric conceits in each could not be further apart.
The third single here was the jaunty “Now That I Own The BBC,” and if I said earlier that the vibe of this album was close to Pet Shop Boys “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing,” then on this track they hit the nail of the head straight on. It’s the secret twin in the third act that was hidden in the basement for 20 years to that song! In another callback to the PSB, the lyric, while playful, seemingly has a deeper level where Ron may be also addressing privatization [just as in “Shopping.”]
“Should we go brighter, should we go lighter
Should we go whiter, go left or righter
What was I thinking, what was I thinking
I wasn’t drinking, what could I have been thinking?” – “Now That I Own The BBC”
Next we got a curve ball with the near instrumental “Tsui Hark;” an homage to the Vietnamese director who by the 80s, played a “John Carpenter” role in the Asian film industry. The urgent track had sound bites of Hark describing himself in the broadest terms and listing some of his most famous film titles. I’m guessing that the brothers might have tried to get Hark attached to their “Mai” project at one time or another. Hence this payback homage after a fruitless endeavor.
Then came, what for me, was the most amazing song on the album. “The Ghost Of Liberace” was an delicate, clockwork jewelry box of a song constructed with the conceit of having the public cruelly mock and humiliate the spirit of the former showman while he blithely plows his artistic furrow no matter what indignities his spirit form endures. I loved the empathy in Russel’s voice as he related how badly he felt for such treatment. After all “he was not hurting you or me.” I can also imagine that the song was a metaphor for any artist creating in the face of indifference’s more malignant cousin -outright scorn. A conceit that surely Sparks themselves might have felt from time to time as they cast pearls before swine. Or… it simply could have been about the Ghost of Liberace.
“He hums Evita and Moon River and Michelle
Maybe that’s why the people scream out “go to hell”
Oh no, now they’re throwing cans of beer
Oh no, I thought ghosts could disappear
But he remains in all his glory, it’s so strange
These aren’t the kind of people he can change
But wait, now they’re starting to applaud
I guess there really is a God above” – “The Ghost of Liberace”
This album certainly indicated that Sparks were paying attention to their [successful] chart competition who had mined their playbook for all it was worth. While this meant that huge swaths of the album were not unlike the current sound of Pet Shop Boys, this also provided more exotic outliers by showing that they might have also been paying attention to Billy MacKenzie, who most certainly had drawn inspiration from them first. It’s hard to imagine MacKenzie even existing without Russell to have lit the path for him first.
It stood as an honorable reiteration of the Sparks manifesto as they managed to get one of their valuable brushes with chart success [this time in Germany] that fed them some much-needed commercial oxygen. Their next move would be the startling consolidation of “Plagiarism,” their tribute album to themselves, then their late period magnum opus, “L’il Beethoven®” would follow; proving that Sparks didn’t need to emulate anyone else in their bid for artistic growth.
– 30 –
Not a huge Sparks fan but When I Kiss You and When Do I Get to Sing My Way are hands down two of the best 90s pop songs. I really dig the Plagarism version if WDIGTSMW. And their drummer around this time…….
Tim – I was really impressed with “Plagiarism,” as long as Jimmy Sommerville was not at the mic. [not a fan of his falsetto-centric approach] Sparks drummer was Tammy Glover, who only moonlighted as their drummer while being a Comedy Central VP! She is curently President of Production for TBS as well as having been Sparks drummer for their impressive 10 year run of amazing 21st century albums in the naughts. Rock on, Ms. Glover!
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I can take or leave Jimmy Sommerville in doses, there’s some select tracks by him that I really like. Hhe also guested on the soundtrack to Orlando and that’s a place where a falsetto in context works quite well. His guest vox on the Plagarism take of “The Number 1 Song in Heaven” elevate that version of it to my go to mix of the song.
Tim – I have had the “Orlando” laserdisc since it came out. When casting a castrato, who else but Jimmy Sommerville would come to mind? It’s just that he’s full-on falsetto, and it gets super weary for my ear. The guy has no modulation; the crux of my beef with his singing. I was much happier when John Jon took over vocals for Bronski Beat. I did love the arrangement of “Number One Song In Heaven” on “Plagiarism,” though.
“When I kiss you” and “Now that I own the BBC” were THE Sparks hits in Russia – those are the only videos of theirs I ever saw on TV, and they were shown surprisingly often. I gravitate towards the latter – great song, both in music and lyrics that are ace! But my go-to song from this album is “Let’s go surfing”, it’s somewhat wistful quality is what gets me every time.
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Vlad – I fudged on “Let’s Go Surfing” since the commmute I listen to music on lasted as long as to “Liberace.” I never got a chance to hear the song and I didn’t want to slack on talking about ths album. oops! “Liberace” in particular, really got to me – it’s the crucial song on the album, personally, so that’s why I didn’t mention “Surfing.”
If you don’t know, [and why would you?] Liberace was a flamboyantly camp pianist popular with housewives in 50-60s America. He could play a piano, but he preferred to play to his audience…shamelessly. “Mr. Showmanship” they called him, with his penchant for gaudy spectacle. When I lived in Los Angeles, his home was a frequent sight when commuting through the San Fernando Valley. You couldn’t miss the ostentatious gate outside of his home.
Liberace is from Milwaukee, which is in the state that I live in.
For a quite successful homeboy one hears next to zip about him here. I would say for non-nefarious folks of Wisconsin history you would hear about Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine more than him which is rather odd as he’s certainly more of a household name (as the reader heads to Wikipedia to look up Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine and prove my point….).
Tim – Can we blame homophobia? Lets face it. Liberace was an MTV Guest VJ in 1983-4. Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontaine were not only dead by then, but so were any of their fans. Only theater geeks would recognize those names in the last 40 years. When we made the Sammy Pilgrimage® in 1985, the same venue [in Clearwater, Florida] had flyers for what might have been Liberace’s last concert tour coming up later. Don’t think we didn’t seriously mull it over before eventually demurring [to our regret].
Having commented on the first part of this review before reading on, I’m so glad that my love of “BBC” and “Liberace” are shared! And yes, Vlad — “Let’s Go Surfing” is a killer track as well!
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