Went to see the pop group Sparks last night with my lovely friend Sue. As always with the Sparks boys, it was a great show. They played their new one, and the classic one they did with Georgio Moroder – Number One In Heaven, which sounded like the future then, and still sounds like the future now, that’s how far ahead of its time it was. Plus, unexpectedly, encores of Propaganda, At Home, At Work, At Play, B.C. and This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us.
Sparks are one of those bands that you either love, hate, like, dislike, or are entirely indifferent about. Throughout their career, they’ve written pop songs which sound like the sort of pop songs you’d expect someone to write if they’d read about pop music in a manual but had never actually heard any. It’s as if they’re trying to be incredibly commercial, whilst also choosing the strangest possible subject matter, playing fast and loose with time signatures and song construction grammar, and with Russell singing in a peculiar sliding falsetto which no-one else has ever successfully attempted (only Justin Hawkins coming close). They’ve basically ploughed their own course, starting out as a band which thought that the problem with glam rock was that it didn’t sound enough like Gilbert and Sullivan, and progressing via synthpop to their current idiom, which is hard to describe but involves endlessly multi-layered vocals, extreme dynamic shifts and taking repetition a little too far, then taking it even further. They’re massively influential; you can hear echoes of Sparks in everything from Queen to Erasure to The Smiths to the Franz Ferdinand boys. May they continue forever – Ron having found the secret of never growing any older, which is to start off by looking like you’re fifty.