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Sparks - Self Titled/Debut LP
Sparks’ eponymous 1971 debut presents the singular compositional, lyrical and singing voices of Ron and Russell Mael fully formed. Originally released under the moniker Halfnelson, Sparks’ prescient debut prefigures Queen, power pop, and especially Southern California’s late ’70s skinny-tie explosion. It’s a landmark of Todd Rungren’s early production career, and clearly the backing band of brothers Earle and Jim Mankey brought Sparks’ pop idiosyncrasies to their later work with The Dickies, The Quick and 20 / 20. Infectious, daring, and delightfully flaunting camp theatricality throughout, Sparks is the first installment in an unparalleled series of some of the decade’s most classic albums. Careening melodies soar through space-detritus electronics on the strikingly original “Roger,” which evokes the early solo work of Brian Eno, but the deranged art-rock closing track “(No More) Mr. Nice Guys” is the unequivocal classic of Sparks’ early career and a staple of the band’s live set ever since. Rundgren’s restrained production wisely sets the Mael brothers at the fore of Sparks. With just subtly treated cymbal flourishes keeping the pace, album opener “Wonder Girl” is pared down and mixed to showcase two things: Ron’s twinkling piano trill and Russell’s fluttering high-register. As Rundgren perceived, and a multi-decade career confirms since, their fraternal chemistry is a consummate force.