Kimono My House (1974) ****1/2
The Sparks are such an easy band to hate. The annoying high-pitched falsetto vocals, the fey aren't-we-clever smarminess, the dinkily aggressive high-NRG fluffy-bounciness, and did I mention that their mock-operatic style is responsible for Queen? The Sparks are, in a strictly objective sense, one of the most annoying bands ever. There's that adjective: annoying. As my first experience with Sparks, I hated the band on first listen. Now, obviously given the high rating you see above, I've changed my mind. The tunes are too ridiculously catchy and melodically brilliant and cleverly constructed (they cram operatic dynamics into bite-sized three minute pop songs, see) to ignore, and eventually after many listens Russell Mael's girly-man croon becomes understandable enough that I can appreciate the self-consciously clever (oh, how self-consciously offbeat) lyrics (and oh, how clever!). The Sparks, you see, practically invented New Wave in 1971 with their debut album, with their herky-jerky jittery bubblegum beat and neurotic-nerdy affectations, but finding no audience for a concept so ahead of its time in grass-totin', bell-bottom blues hippie southern Cali, fled to England where they found a much more appreciative audience (and hits!). This album fits in well with the glam rock era (look at the cover) and fans of Bolan and Ziggy Bowie, feel free to up the rating a notch to perfection. On this, their third LP, the tracks all fall into more or less the same style, which can be described as glammy '70s non-disco dance-pop that's confectionary cotton-candy sweet bubblegummy power-pop but way too quirky and offbeat to go down so easily as straight pop.
Stylistically, the album varies little, but melodically each track differs, which are almost Beatle-worthy in their own feather-weight way. Quality-wise there are ups and downs as well, which along with the lack of variety is the main reason I can't rank this as an essential classic (even if it is essential and it is a classic). There's a slight amount of filler, cropping up mostly towards the tail end (lordy, what a mindlessly repetitive non-tune "Equator," is). The opener and single, "This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us," is clearly the most immediately striking tune, and ranks right up there with "Virginia Plain," as glam rock's most definingly daffy rococo meisterstrokes: where am I to begin to describe this Frankenstein amalgam of mock-opera, glam thud, spaghetti-western, bubblegum that zippies along like Wile E. Coyote? "Hasta Manana Monsieur," flows on some of the wittiest lyrics (look at that title again) in a hysterical comedy of errors in which courtship is thwarted by foreign language. "Here in Heaven," is sung bitterly from the POV of a young man whose girlfriend chickened out on their suicide pact, and "Thank God It's Not Christmas," from the POV of a bitter old man who hates the holidays because he's forced to spend time with his boring family. I could continue to go on track by track about the lyrical subject matter, but I'll conclude by noting that the two bonus tracks, concurrent singles, "Barbecutie," (there go those arch lads again) and "Lost and Found," are well-nigh essential, easily as strong as the best album tracks.
P.S. I have no idea what 'well-nigh' means. I mean, I have a vague idea, but not enough to know how to properly use that phrase in a sentence.