Sparks: Gratuitous Sax + Senseless Violins – UK – 3xCD 
Disc Three – Demos + Unreleased Tracks
- Where Did I Leave My Halo?
- She’s Beautiful (So What)
- The Farmer’s Daughter
- This Angry Young Man Ain’t Angry No More
- Bob Hope
- She’s An Anchorman (Demo)
- Love Can Conquer All
- That’s What I Call Paradise
- This Angry Young Man Ain’t Angry No More (Ron Vocal Version)
- Mid-Atlantic (Ron Vocal Version)
- That’s Entertainment (feat. Les Bohem)
- Katharine Hepburn (vocals by Christi Haydon)
- Titanic (vocals by Christi Haydon)
- Othello (vocals by Christi Haydon)
- Boris The Spider
Here’s where we dig deep into the meat of the DLX RM of “Gratuitous Sax + Senseless Violins!” I won’t beat around the bush. If all this CD had going for it was disc two full of remixes, I would have cherry picked the occasional 12″ single from it and been content with my original GER CD from 1994. But these unreleased Sparks tunes were like Monastic Catnip to me! I had to hear them and so without further ado…
“Where Did I Leave My Halo” played out like a song that almost could have been recorded during the immediately preceding “Interior Design” album. The music bed didn’t sound a million miles away from the vibe on that album. But the song itself was a cut above the standard that the prior album exhibited. The wistful, gentle ballad, was probably not the thing for this new album. They were going for a more vibrant groove thang [and it successfully charted very well for them] so any ebbs in the flow of “Gratuitous Sax” were better left to the likes of the admittedly much more stunning “Ghost Of Liberace.”
The next track, quite simply, is my new favorite Sparks song! Yes, I know, there’s a lot of competition for that constantly changing title, but “She’s Beautiful [So What]” found Sparks trying their hand at the kind of sampled, cinematic, pizzicato string stabs that made Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” so arresting…but with far more interesting lyrics! This lodges itself in my cranium for long hours at a time after one listen.
The lyrics managed to paint yet another complex heartbreak scenario from the pen of Ron. The compositional formalism and use of repetition also cannot help but be an early outlier to the breakthrough that they would have with “L’il Beethoven” in the next decade. Sure, sure. It would have stuck out like a sore thumb on the streamlined dancefloor monster that “Gratuitous Sax” turned out to be, but it’s tragic that this glorious song had been jilted on the shelves for the quarter century since this album! Thank the gods of music that this had since been corrected!
Did I say that “She’s Beautiful [So What]” was my new favorite Sparks song? That was so five minutes ago! Clearly, what I meant to say was that the fabulous “Mid-Atlantic” was exactly that song! It was built on a walking bass line and a loping rhythmic chassis that recalled the far less adroit “Sailing On The Seven Seas” that OMD had taken to the Top three of the UK charts three years earlier. Except that, yes, it had much [much] better lyrics. Get used to that. We’re talking about Sparks here.
So far were had a lot of material that would be among Sparks finest. It was perhaps inevitable that a song like “The Farmer’s Daughter” might come along to shake things up. The jolting, obtrusive rhythm track was all thumps, slaps, and sampled guitars. It had a freakish, lurching quality alien to most Sparks music, and the end result was that for once Russell’s delivery of the lyric payload [always a Sparks highlight] was buried so deeply int he song that I can’t recall what any lyrics are. It’s actually hard to hear Russell in this track. Looking at the lyrics in the booklet, it’s completely unfamiliar to me, since I can’t really focus on the singing in this clattering, cacophonous mix. A Sparks misstep.
Fortunately, we were saved by the arrival of the lilting ballad “This Angry Young Man [Ain’t Angry No More]” where the soothing music was gifted with yet another example of Ron’s extreme talent for finding a novel way to express what, in lesser hands, would be cliché beyond contempt. His framing of his obviously new and transformative love affair could not have been more touching [yet witty]. What other delights await us on this amazing disc? We’ll have to get back to you in the next post. Blogging time is up for today.
Next: …Hope For America