Monday, May 19, 2014

40 Year Itch: Heartbeat, Increasing Heartbeat

Originally based in LA,  former child models Ron and Russell Mael found little commercial success in the US so they relocated to London. There they recruited a new band and scored a UK #2 hit with their Gilbert and Sullivan meets Glam Rock mash-up "This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both of Us". One look at the now infamous Top of the Pops clip below, and you'll see the appeal isn't all musical. Vocalist Russell looked like a dreamy pop star while his brother, sporting a Hitler-esque mustache, just glared and glowered at the camera 

    David Bowie may have opened the floodgates a year or two earlier but 1974 witnessed a golden age for Art Rock pop hits . Sparks wasn't the only band making artistic statements in under songs running under four minutes. 10cc, Brian Eno, Cockney Rebel, Roxy Music and Be Bop Deluxe all provided alternatives to the album side statements by prog rock gods like Yes, ELP and Pink Floyd. Most surprisingly, these weird bands had hits.

   40 years later Kimono My House stands up. In part, because it is so weird. Ron wrote his songs on piano and expected his brother to sing whatever his right hand played. These are notes so high that would challenge a counter-tenor vocalist. And then there is Ron's complex wordplay:

Heartbeat, increasing heartbeat
You hear the thunder of stampeding rhinos, elephants and tacky tigers
 This town ain't big enough for both of us
And it ain't me who's gonna leave

Or in the second single "Amateur Hour"

Dance laugh wine dine and talk and sing 
But those cannot replace what is the real thing
It's a lot like playing the violin 
You cannot start off and be Yehudi Menuhin 

   You can hear Sparks's vast influence on New Wave bands all over Kimono My House. The first band that comes to mind is Split Enz. Maybe the Swingers. But even Siouxsie and the Banshees covered "This Town" in 1987 and Morrissey invited Sparks to perform Kimono My House in 2004 at London's Royal Festival Hall.

   Sparks is still performing and still recording. Never bowing down to commercial trends, they've tried their hand at electronic pop music, film making and musicals. But here, on Kimono My House, critical and commercial success merged. If only for one magical musical moment.

For two more cuts and some more personal thoughts about the album, check out this Vinyl Villain post.

1 comment:

  1. You're absolutely correct, this album does stand the test of time. Excellent article.