Sparks New Music For Amnesiacs: The Ultimate Collection’

Feature:   Sparks  ‘New Music For Amnesiacs’



Tickling My Fancy:  Jilk



Playlists:  The Second Golden Age Of Hip Hop Part II &  The Café Revues Series.

Sparks   ‘New Music For Amnesiacs: The Ultimate Collection’  (Lil’ Beethoven Records)  –  21st October 2013

The first and, possibly for a large majority, only exposure to the Mael siblings erudite brand of pun inspired satirical pop would have been the sight of the prancing, curly-haired, imp Russell and his stoic, Chaplin moustached brother Ron, performing the glitter falsetto anthem, ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us’, on Top Of The Pops in 1974.

This revelatory performance would either confirm many peoples suspicions about these odd and queer looking fellas from California, now living and recording in London, or lead to a lifelong conversion to the Sparks doctrine; one that with sophisticated wit and élan merged the qualities of Brain Wilson (who with Mike Love penned one of Russell’s favourite songs, ‘Be True To Your School’), Gershwin, Spector and Kurt Weill with a modernist acerbic commentary on humanities many foibles.

‘Never a prophet in your own land’ or so the age old adage goes, the brothers found solace and acceptance readily in Europe; relocating to the UK to record, perhaps, their most celebrated and certainly among their most creative, albums, Kimono My House – a catalyst for in my opinion, a roll call of equally auspicious and masterful releases, including the magnificent Propaganda. Partly this love affair with the continent was down to the boys own Austrian and Russian Jewish ancestry, and interest with the cinematography and ideas of malcontent thinkers like Ingmar Bergman – the famous filmmaker would be immortalized by the brothers on their fantastical The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman concept album in 2009; a part narrative part musical story, which imagines the Nordic king of morose being tempted to leave Europe to make a film in Hollywood. Yet they would soon part these shores and adopt the late 70s penchant for all things disco, swapping the glamour pop rock and honky tonk Weimar direction of their first six albums for the pulsing, strobe lit production of Moroder on their 1979 release, No.1 In Heaven. Though it sounds disingenuous, the following decade proved unkind as a succession of synth-based, dry ice evoking, glib observational and film-metaphor referencing albums sounded overtly camp and lackluster; even though they would release seven of their 22 albums during that decade. However, this didn’t prevent them from inspiring a whole new generation of artists to take on that synth-pop ascetic, though it’s a style I can’t personally stomach, they did it with such fine gusto, and memorable bright spots such as ‘Beat The Clock’, ‘Angst In My Pants’ and ‘Eaten By The Monster Of Love’ show that they could still deliver: just not nearly enough.

Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins along with the, alternative version of familiar Sparks highlights, Plagiarism, would be the only beacons of light in a fruitless 90s. But a resurgence; a rebirth of sorts for the brothers in 2002 paved the way for a ‘hattrick’ of ingenious opprobrious social commentary, with the triumvirate of Lil’ Beethoven, Hello Young Lovers and Exotic Creatures Of The Deep. Proving if anything that with maturity comes great responsibility, as the Mael brothers continue to remain relevant in the digital era, even if they’ve actually gone back to a more classically enriched palette; relying less on technology and instead heralding a return to the 70s sound, albeit with timpani and strings.

Almost unique, there isn’t another act I can think of that has successfully emulated the Sparks sound; even though the Pet Shop Boys relationship and in some ways certain threads of their music have alluded to it. No one quite sums up such serious issues and observations with satirical, lampooning, biting and surreal humour; the closest band I can think of is the Bonzo’s, but even then they were far more prone to clowning footlight comedy and sounded intrinsically British. Still, Sparks have ploughed their own furrow in the music business, daring to tread where others can only dream and taking on performances that seem herculean in audacity – performing all of their albums in order over 21 nights.

There have of course been numerous compilations, both of recorded material and live performances; only just this year for instance there has been the release of the Two Hands, One Mouth: Live In Europe tour album. Yet there hasn’t been anything as comprehensive as this latest behemoth, New Music For Amnesiacs.

Most likely the nearest we’re ever going to get to seeing any sort of autobiography, the New Music For Amnesiacs box set boasts not only a career spanning selection of singles, album tracks, rarities and memorabilia trinkets but also a handsome looking ‘coffee table’ hardback book; resplendent with previously unreleased photos and an abundance of quips, quotes and insights. Curated by the brothers and released via their own label, the 5-CD collection harks back to their musical infancy, beginning with the late 60s as – a hangover from the Whisky-a-Go-Go days – the Urban Renewal Project, through to their brief sojourn as the wrestling punned Halfnelson. Much of this early material is handy but not exactly enlightening or even very good; in fact they wouldn’t get going until the breakthrough, Kimono; the inaugural eponymous debut, and the first Sparks album proper, A Woofer In Tweeter’s Clothing (the only shinning highlight, the single ‘Girl from Germany’), may act as auguries of what was to come, but suffer from a clumsy lack of direction and ennui.

Excluding the Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman, every one of their albums is represented with an 81-song travail through the last forty-odd years. Guaranteed as the most concise history and compilation ever attempted of the band, NMFA, is to be a wholly ‘tangible object’ release: “made with advanced, impossible-to-download technology…”  The price? A hefty £99.99! It’ set to be an expensive month or two, at least for American and Canadian, fans as the band embark on the North American leg of their The Revenge Of Two Hands One Mouth Tour, on October 23rd.

Sparks 2

That full tracklist: ready…

Disc 1:

1. Wonder Girl

2. Roger

3. High C

4. Girl From Germany

5. Batteries Not Included

6. Whippings and Apologies

7. This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both of Us

8. Amateur Hour

9. Equator

10. Talent Is An Asset

11. Barbecutie

12. Propaganda

13. At Home At Work At Play

14. Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth

15. Something For The Girl With Everything

16. Alabamy Right

17. Hospitality On Parade

18. Happy Hunting Ground

19. Looks, Looks, Looks

20. Get In The Swing

21. Miss the Start, Miss the End

22. Big Boy

23. Nothing To Do

24. Looks Aren’t Everything

25. Tearing The Place Apart

Disc 2:

1. Goofing Off

2. Over The Summer

3. The Number One Song In Heaven

4. Beat The Clock

4. Tryouts For The Human Race (Unreleased Version)

5. When I’m With You (LP Single Version)

6. Young Girls (LP Single Version)

7. Tips For Teens

8. Funny Face

9. I Married A Martian

10. Angst In My Pants

11. I Predict

12. Mickey Mouse

13. Eaten By The Monster Of Love

14. Cool Places

15. Popularity

16. I Wish I Looked A Little Better

17. Pretending to Be Drunk

18. A Song That Sings Itself

Disc 3:

1. Music That You Can Dance To

2. Change

3. Let’s Get Funky

4. Singing in The Shower (ft. Les Rita Mitsouko)

5. So Important

6. A Walk Down Memory Lane

7. Madonna

8. National Crime Awareness Week (Psycho Cut)

9. Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins

10. When Do I Get To Sing “My Way”

11. (When I Kiss You) I Hear Charlie Parker Playing (Radio Edit)

12. Tsui Hark (Ft. Tsui Hark & Bill Kong)

13. Let’s Go Surfing

14. Propaganda

15. Pulling Rabbits Out of A Hat

16. This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both Of Us (ft. Faith No More)

17. Bullet Train

18. It’s A Knockoff

19. Calm Before The Storm

 Disc 4:

1. Concerto In Koch Minor (Wunderbar)

2. The Rhythm Thief

3. How Do I Get To Carnegie Hall?

4. My Baby’s Taking Me Home

5. Suburban Homeboy

6. I Married Myself

7. Dick Around

8. Perfume

9. The Very Next Fight

10. Metaphor

11. As I Sit Down To Play The Organ At The Notre Dame Cathedral

12. Good Morning

13. Lighten Up, Morrissey

14. Strange Animal

15. Photoshop

16. I’ve Never Been High

17. I Am A Bookworm

Souvenir CD:

1. Islington N1

2. Two Hands One Mouth

Tickling My Fancy:


Jilk   ‘Retreat To Sleep’   (Bit-Phalanx)  –   Available Now

The Bit-Phalanx label’s longest serving artist, attentive beat and glitch auteur, Jilk, finally releases his long-awaited debut album, Retreat To Sleep. The ‘Bristol veteran’ has been crafting his signature style of succinct ambient perusals, and wafting pliable poised piques of white noise and static charges, on a series of EPs for the label.

Jilk’s first long-player reaches beyond those earlier minimalist explorations, experimenting as it does with an ensemble cast of musicians and vocalists to create something more soulfully attuned and worldly. The Monolith Cocktail offers up three of those tracks for your consideration.

A story of two halves, both congruous, ‘Don’t Carry On’ begins with echoing vocals that float over a hi-pitched electronic backing of tapping percussion and crackly rhythmic interference, before bouncing effortlessly into a pleasant melodic expanse.

‘Come In Spiders’ is a much busier, skittering track. Delightful twinkly particles bounce over a click-y suite of hypnotic backward loops and gently applied piano notes, whilst more of those resonating, almost lost, choral vocals add an air of mystery to the efflux. The last of the trio, ‘I Put Your Tape On’ features a dreamy Andreya Turner-esque vocal that drifts eloquently untethered; allowed to hang over the looping winds of an Asian toned soundscape.

Two alternative versions of the album are available now, with the CD version sounding the most tantalizing, housed as it is in a deluxe ‘Envelope’ pack that also features a bonus digital download LP called Demonstrations (2005 – 2007) – this includes ten early archive Jilk tracks, originally composed for his MA, and features the previous single, ‘My Techno Heart Melts Your EMO Dribble’.

Full tracklist:

‘Retreat To Sleep’

01. Don’t Carry On

02. Sonder

03. Come In Spiders

04. All We Ever See

05. Winter Blues In Robbie’s Room

06. I Put Your Tape On

07. Hymn Of Intent

08. Giggleupz

09. Sympathy For The City (feat. Coppe’)

10. Fat Feet Away, Check For Bones Everyday

‘Demonstrations (2005 – 2007)’ – Bonus Download album

included in ‘Retreat To Sleep’ Deluxe CD edition only.

01. Sila (feat. Tulin-Fée)

02. A Lovely Sticky Mess

03. Ginwomb

04. My Techno Heart Melts Your EMO Dribble

05. Avaloliteshrava (feat. Tulin-Fée)

06. A Hatred Of Strangers

07. Yvonne’s Tummy Bump

08. Verity Sleeps Well (Wide Awake Edit)

09. Clostohouse

10. Lone



‘Second Golden Age Of Hip Hop (1988 – 1994)’ Part II

MC Duke

Let the ‘good times’ roll, the golden age celebrations continue with a second installment of daisy age, flavour unit, jazz rap’tastic’ and homespun ‘choice’ Hip Hop ricochets and hits.

From the new psychedelic, if not polygenesis and spiritual, direction of Hip Hop’s very own Sgt.Pepper, De La Soul’s 3 Feet High And Rising, to the mock gentry-adoptive London maverick, MC Duke, this is one ‘ill’ trip back to a less contrived and cynical age.

So recline and absorb a travail playlist that includes some of the baddest, dopest and lyrically erudite brothers and sisters from 1988 to 1994. Just try these on for size: Ruthless Rap Assassins, X Clan, Digable Planets, The UMC’s, Souls Of Mischief, Overlord X and 25 other, equally, resourceful entries from the archives.

More ‘second golden age of Hip Hop’ posts, playlists and reviews can be found HERE y’all!


‘The Café Revue Series, Parts I – IV’

Pharaoh Sanders

Grandstanding without shame and imposing the Monolith Cocktail’s musical tastes upon others in the name of helping out others, could be construed as egotistical: even smarmy and self-indulgent . But nevertheless, my services were indeed called upon; my friends modest, nee humble, café in the most bland city of all of Christendom, Chichester, needed a soundtrack, and the Monolith obliged, with bells on!

An atmosphere needed to be created; one that neither curtailed to the bland nor shocked the patrons into an early grave – believe me, the demographic leans towards the elderly. However in a cultured city such as this – well so they keep telling us, though the evidence is at best scant –, with its sophisticated jazz connoisseurs; tattooed, eight-inch turn-up sporting R&B mavericks; occasional passing doom-eyed malcontent and marooned Hemingway wannabes, the backing track could dare to be a polygenesis mix.

Regardless though of what the patrons wanted, the Monolith compiled a ‘Florida gator stomping-jungle jazz-science friction–toreador lamenting– Lagos grandfunking–awkward sunshine pop–Stax jolting–doo wop girl group swooning–krautrocking’ playlist like no other. But why should those lucky coffee drinkers of West Sussex get all the fun…here for your own aural delight are the goods in full.

Part I – Includes: Lee Baxter, Ray Smith, Scott Walker, Beach Boys, Grace Jones, Can, Carl Mann, Atlas Sound, Ceri James…

Part II – Includes: The Barbecues, Sun Ra, Soft Machine, Stan Tracey, Dennis Wilson, Josephine Foster, Bobby Fuller Four, Loudon Wainwright III…

Part III – Includes: The Who, Neu!, Bosco Delrey, Jinko Vilova, Colosseum, Spirit, Little Beaver, Floyd White…

Part IV – Includes: Pharaoh Sanders, Eddie Bo, Funkadelic, Alain Coraguer, The Funkees, Crocodiles, The Sign Of Four…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: