Record Review: Sparks Ignite “Gratuitous Sax + Senseless Violins” DLX RM UK 3xCD To The Next Level [disc 2/3]

ron mael and russel mael of Sparks in 1994 (c) Gibert Blecken
Ron and Russel were on top of the world with a big Euro hit in 1994 photo ©1994 Gilbert Blecken

I couple of years ago I wrote a review of the 1994 Sparks album “Gratuitous Sax + Senseless Violins.” While I really enjoyed the album even more than I did than upon first hearing it, the band almost immediately announced a DLX RM package that expanded the album to a fulsome three discs. As I was then saving for the trip to the UK that didn’t happen a year ago, I did not immediately bite, but the notion crossed my mind recently that I should get on that action if I didn’t want to be crying in my oatmeal with the disc eventually OOP and three figures. Last month, I bought it from the only person in America selling a copy on Discogs. And now we’ll look at it more closely.

sparks gratuitous sax + senseless violins 3 disc set
BMG | UK | 3xCD | 2019 | BMGCAT410TCD

Sparks: Gratuitous Sax + Senseless Violins – UK – 3xCD [2019]

Disc Two – Mixes, B-sides, and versions

  1. National Crime Awareness Week (Complete Psycho) produced by Finiflex
  2. When Do I Get To Sing “My Way” (The Grid Radio Edit) Remixed by The Grid
  3. (When I Kiss You) I Hear Charlie Parker Playing [Bernard Butler’s Fashionable World Of Fashion Mix]remixed by Bernard Butler
  4. Now That I Own The BBC (Live BBC Acoustic Version)
  5. When Do I Get To Sing “My Way” (Vince Clarke Remix)
  6. She’s An Anchorman
  7. Little Drummer Boy Unreleased studio version
  8. Beat The Clock (Live in Concert)Live at Shepherds Bush Empire, London. 17 November 1994
  9. National Crime Awareness Week (13 Minutes In Heaven) produced by Finiflex
  10. When Do I Get To Sing “My Way” (Sticks & Stones Remix) remixed by Keith Marantz & DavidLongoria at The Steamroom
  11. (When I Kiss You) I Hear Charlie Parker Playing [The Beatmasters’ Full-Blown Dub] Remixed by The Beatmasters
  12. Now That I Own The BBC (Motiv 8 Extended Vocal Mix) remixed by Motiv 8
  13. When Do I Get To Sing “My Way” (Pro-Gress Mix) Remix & additional production by Pro-Gress for D.E.F.
  14. National Crime Awareness Week (The Janet Leigh Mix) remixed by Steve Bates
sparks -- national crime awareness week cover art

When Sparks realized that they had been tied up in trying to produce the film version of the Japanese manga “Mai: Psychic Girl,” for five years, the thought began to happen that maybe they had better get back to something that they were more successful at. Maybe a single could break the ice? They then hooked up with Scottish electricians Finitribe to hit a target that seemed to be a logical step onward from the band we’d last heard on 1988’s “Interior Design.” The “Complete Psycho” mix features Bernard Hermann string samples [from you know where] with Russell Mael using a sprechgesang delivery very close to what he employed on cuts like “Madonna” on the earlier opus. The technopop chugged along with more character, though.

The sumptuous hit “When Do I Get To Sing My Way” was next with a 7″ edit of a Grid remix. The house beat and touch of acid [by way of Moroder] here was a little clubbier than the album mix. All of the exxagerated traits in this remix were at least present in the original mix, so this was no more than an aural brow lift. The string patches were gone but it was a good, mild remix for the 1994 era. When remix porn really could get out of hand.

sparks - when I kiss you I Hear Charlie Parker Playing cover art

Far more radical [and all the better for its audacity] was the “Bernard Butler’s Fashionable World Of Fashion” mix of “[When I Kiss You] I Hear Charlie Parker Playing.” The erstwhile Suede guitarist had no compunction just isolating Russell’s vocal, filtering it deeply, and constructing an entirely new, ‘luded out fistful of psychedelic ooze at half the tempo of the original. Butler’s lead guitar was completely spaced out here; recalling some of David Gilmour’s Pink Floyd space rock at their most outré. It flowed out copiously for over seven minutes of bliss, never losing the song or it’s human core, yet mutating it almost beyond recognition. The ending touch of adding a snatch of the original mix as heard through a transistor radio followed by a click at the end was perfect.

The third single from the album was next in a brief,, “live acoustic” version from the band’s BBC session that actually played out like a dry run for the “two Hands/One Mouth” tour concept with Russell singing while Ron was solo on synth with no drummer or programming. The Vince Clarke remix of “When Do I Get To Sing My Way” played out exactly as one would expect it to. It sounded like a snapshot of Erasure ca. 1994 with all of the sound design that informed “Always” providing the new, and even more chipper electropop making the track up this time.

sparks - now that I own the BBC cover art

Then came a trio of B-sides to fit together and give us a break from mixes. “She’s An Anchorman” was the only Non-LP B-side from the “Now That I Own The BBC” UK CD#1 [remember that time?]  and it was a slow tempo, dreamy bit of trip-hop. Showing that Sparks were not resting on their laurels of hip awareness. The provenance of “Little Drummer Boy” is difficult to ascertain. Some point to a BBC session, but the disc booklet says “previously unreleased” and we’ll leave it at that. That said, it’s simply Ron and Russ performing the well known xmas song in a not shocking version. And the band had a dip into their classic repertoire with a live recording of “Beat The Clock” from the live tour for this album which was well underway by the time that “BBC” was its third single.

Then, after that, there was the second half of this disc to chew through. The 90s were a time of gratuitous remixes and senseless dance trends, if you were me. The fact is that the three singles from the album [plus “National Crime Awareness Week,” which remained apart from it but was from the same time] all exist in a large mountain of remixes that even now I could not have a full knowledge of. Electronic dance music of a reductive stripe had peaked in the late 80s and showed no signs of abating in the 90s. That would account for the dozens of remixes that Sparks had at their fingertips to choose from in curating this DLX RM. With disc two top loaded with some of the best efforts, it was time to see what else was out there.

Was there anything I disliked more than long trance remixes in excess of 10 minutes with just a vocal sample from the original in the 90s? So to put it mildly, I’m never going to listen [beyond twice] to the dubiously titled “National Crime Awareness Week [13 Minutes In Heaven]” remix. All that remained of Russell was his vocal from the middle eight, meted out through the, yes, 13:05 minutes of dubiously looped trancemix. It wasn’t the worst remix I’d ever heard. If it was 4:30 I’d be more accepting of it’s vibe. At nearly three times that length, I will never play this again. Life’s too short.

The “Sticks + Stones”mix of “When Do I Get To Sing My Way” was a more typical house mix with a 909 bassline. “Typical House” was how I’d also describe “The Beatmasters Full Blown Dub” of “Charlie Parker.” The hyper tempo just made me anxious. At least Motiv-8’s “Now That I Own The BBC” managed to sneak in a new melodic submotif to earn some grudging respect for their oh so handbag track. The cheerful melody went a long way to make me not simple stop the disc at this point. otherwise I’d be happy to only listen to the first eight tracks on this CD. The remaining mixes were nothing to hear more than once.

So there were a handful of remixes here that I was actually enthusiastic about. The Bernard Butler remix was truly best of breed stuff. I liked the “Complete Psycho” mix of the non-LP “National Crime Awareness Week” best of the three here. I was glad to have the song in house, though it was slighter than the material that would feature on the album. But the notion of simply having to have each of the remixes of all of the singles from this album would probably fill five CDs and listening to it would be a tooth-grinding chore beyond compare. I’m grateful that [presumably] The Brothers dug through the mountain of remixes sand curated this selection so I would not have to. Even so, the last half of this disc was almost completely avoidable. But I didn’t buy this for the remixes. What I wanted badly was the third disc of previously unreleased recordings!

Next: …Ain’t Angry No More

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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4 Responses to Record Review: Sparks Ignite “Gratuitous Sax + Senseless Violins” DLX RM UK 3xCD To The Next Level [disc 2/3]

  1. Pingback: Nick Cave + The Bad Seeds Trying A Crowfunder Lottery To Aid Their Crew | Post-Punk Monk

  2. Gavin says:

    I have the UK CD single of “National Crime Awareness Week”.It was produced by John Vick of Finiflex,who was a friend of mine when I lived in Edinburgh. I was a regular visitor to his studio/home which was a lovely old building whose exterior was painted metallic silver!
    John and his family are lovely-he even offered to mix and master my own fledgeling recordings for free in his studio,but I was too shy to allow it,alas.
    I also saw Sparks perform the track “live” around this time at a “Gay Pride” event in London.I remember being amazed at how much Russel bounced about on stage.I never bought the album though.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Gavin – I am not shocked that you were friends with John Vick. By now I assume that you know every interesting musician on earth! What surprises me is that you lived in Edinburgh! I first heard Finitribe when their cover of Can’s “I Want More” showed up on MTV’s 120 Minutes back in 1987. A dozen years later Vick’s productions with Billy MacKenzie found issue in the raft of posthumous releases that we eagerly snatched up. They were astonishing and it’s a shame that they did not have a full album together. But making an album with the evasive MacKenzie was probably no easy task!

      If you have the CD single then you have dishes a trance bullet by missing the 13 minute remix on the 12″ single! The one time I saw Sparks play on the “Revenge of the Two Hands One Mouth” tour in 2013, I saw Russell attack the stage; stomping around like a man possessed. And he’d just turned 65 less than a fortnight earlier! I wondered if it was because he was using his physicality as a timekeeping factor as there was no drums for that show but what you said suggests that was just his style. Amazing! If you’ve not heard “Gratuitous Sax And Senseless Violins” then it’s to your detriment. A big step up from their low ebb prior.

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      • Gavin says:

        Oddly enough,I have never heard the Vick/Mackenzie songs!
        ‘Auchtermatic’ is the only one of the posthumous albums which I don’t own-I have a lot of the other tracks on other releases though.Another friend of mine,Noko,wrote the wonderful track “Pain in any Language”.Noko played guitar soundscapes at the opening night of one of my photographic exhibitions!Wish I had taped that!
        My CD single of of ‘NCAW’ has the Psycho,Highly strung,Complete Psycho and 13 mins in Heaven mixes on it.

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