There’s never been a better time to be a Sparks fan. Levels of interest in the work of Ron and Russell Mael are at a height unseen since their 1970s breakthrough.
Their 2021 film musical Annette, directed by Leos Carax and starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, has been showered with awards, especially in France where Carax won Best Director at Cannes, and where the film won three Lumières Awards and five César Awards including Best Original Music for Ron and Russell.
Following their Franz Ferdinand collaboration album FFS, which restored them to the UK Top 20 in 2015, Sparks have once again become Top 10 regulars, with Hippopotamus (2017) and A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip (2020) both reaching No.7.
The acclaimed career-spanning documentary film The Sparks Brothers, directed by Edgar Wright (Shaun Of The Dead, Hot Fuzz, Baby Driver) and released in 2021, brought an awareness of Sparks to parts they previously hadn’t reached. The ultimate cult band are suddenly centre stage, in the full beam of the spotlight.
Now, their work since the turn of the century is being celebrated in the 21st Century Sparks collection of deluxe reissues, released by BMG on CD and vinyl.
The first wave, arriving on 29th April, comprises the transitional, techno-centric Balls (2000), the minimalist/maximalist masterpiece Lil’ Beethoven (2002), and the operatic rock monster Hello Young Lovers (2006). The second wave, on 27th May, completes the set of reissues with the complex, intricate Exotic Creatures Of The Deep (2008) and ambitious radio musical The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman (2009).
Taken together, these five albums – each of them newly remastered for the 21st Century Sparks collection – and their more recent studio releases Hippopotamusand A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip plot out the path of an extraordinary renaissance for the Mael brothers. Some of the five reissued albums have been out of print for a considerable length of time, and much sought-after by Sparks collectors. The inclusion of bonus material on the CD and digital versions (excluding The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman), much of it previously unreleased, makes these essential purchases for new fans and old fans alike.
The releases coincide with Sparks’ biggest-ever North American tour, which began with a pair of triumphant shows in their native Los Angeles, and their touring schedule continues through to the summer of 2022 with further dates in Europe (see www.allsparks.com for details).
Most people, with even a passing acquaintance with Sparks, will know the basics by now. How Californian brothers Ron and Russell Mael, both students at UCLA, began making music together in the late Sixties, originally under the name Halfnelson. How their Top Of The Pops debut with “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us” stunned a generation and nearly scored them a UK No.1. How their career moved through many phases, including (but not limited to) art rock, glam, big band swing, electro-disco, new wave and synthpop, taking in collaborations with Todd Rundgren, Les Rita Mitsouko Tony Visconti and Giorgio Moroder (as well as the aforementioned Franz Ferdinand).
How keyboardist and songwriter Ron’s intricate staccato arrangements combine with the hysteria-pitch falsetto in which Russell delivers his brother’s always-on-point lyrics. How Ron’s stillness and stern, intimidating visage contrasts onstage with Russell’s hyperactivity. How their popularity has spiked unpredictably in different territories at different times: Britain, France, Germany, Scandinavia, Japan, and their homeland the United States. And how the influence of “the greatest band you’ve never heard of”, or “your favourite band’s favourite band”, has been recognised by successive generations of artists from Joy Division to Duran Duran to Depeche Mode to Bjork to Beck to The Darkness and beyond.
If there’s a gap in the knowledge of Sparks newcomers, or even long-term admirers, it might be the early 21st century: that crucial period in the 2000s, between the ‘Crackerjack years’ of their first flushes of fame and their current success, when the duo rediscovered their muse and released some of their finest albums. The 21st Century Sparks collection of deluxe reissues, released by BMG on CD and vinyl, fills that gap.
Now into their sixth decade of making music, Sparks have never been more relevant. The 21st Century Sparks collection shows exactly how they got here.
Available to pre-order from store.allsparks.com/21st-century-sparks