“The Middle Ages sucked”.
That line is true, whether it concerns the medieval era or the middle years of an estimated lifetime. In this case, it means the dark ages as “This Is the Renaissance” puts a bizarre spin on that period, whether you pronounce it “Ren-ah-sance or Ren-eh-sance”.
Such is the wit of Sparks, a band that always marched to the beat of its own drummer or, in this case, possibly a tambourine-banging minstrel.
That isn’t to say the music is antiquated in any way. What is surprising is how up-to-the-minute 2008’s album Exotic Creatures of the Deep sounds, given the brothers Mael have been making music under the Sparks banner for around 50 years now.
I would describe myself as a fair-weather fan of the band. I only have a handful of their albums and, of those, there’s a couple I don’t listen to anymore. Yet here is an album I only recently discovered and it quickly established itself as the most accessible album of theirs I have heard to date.
After a brief intro, the album kicks into gear with the up-tempo “Good Morning”. The music is an instant earworm, but it is in the lyrics where the track really shines. From the perspective of somebody who wakes up with a beautiful person unexpectedly beside them, our narrator slowly devolves from thanking God for their good fortune to pleading “Hey, where are you going?”
I don’t even need to put the lyrics to the tracks here to give a strong indication of what you’re in store for. “I Can’t Believe that You Would Fall for All the Crap in this Song” is exactly what you think it will be about. It’s just brilliant that nobody thought to put it that blatantly before, let along set to such a monstrously catchy tune. But the real centerpiece is “Lighten Up, Morrisey”, as one would expect from such a title.
I can understand why this music may not resonate with many (most?) people, but I think that’s a shame. One thing I can see is people being put off by their demeanor. These brothers are ridiculously talented, but it’s obvious they know it. They strike me as being like those kids in school who could make wordplay as devasting as swordplay, cruelly skewering somebody with a pithy remark. Still, being smartest kids in the room definitely doesn’t make you the most popular, and I like the bizarre paths Sparks has blazed through the musical landscape across the decades.
Exotic Creatures of the Deep is where I recommend newcomers dip a toe into the waters. If you like what you hear, Lil Beethoven (in my opinion, their very best album) may be good next step on your explorations.