★★★★½ - STUFF
- Amazing love letter to the best band you've never heard of -
They’re the duo Jonathan Ross once described as looking like “people who had been let out for the day”.
Britain’s Top of the Pops even once refused to let them play after producers discovered they were actually American.
It’s highly likely that you’ve never heard of them and yet Ron and Russell Mael have been a huge influence on everyone from Joy Division to Depeche Mode, Sonic Youth, Nirvana and Björk (even Paul McCartney paid homage to them in the music video for his 1980 song Coming Up) since they first began performing as Urban Renewal Project in 1967.
But it’s as Sparks that they’ve carved out their incredible, prolific and truly eclectic career. What other band could have managed a glam rock UK hit with This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us in 1974, dominated the dancefloors thanks to a disco collaboration with Giorgio Morodor (The Number One Song in Heaven) in 1979, topped the charts in Australia and France with 1980’s When I’m With You, boasted the most airplay in Germany in 1994 thanks to When Do I Get to Sing ‘My Way’ and teamed up with Franz Ferdinand for a 2015 album. That’s one of 25 studio albums the pair have put together with titles as diverse (and memorable) as A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing, Kimono My House, Whomp That Sucker, The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman and Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins.
Honestly, initially it’s hard to believe you’re not watching some elaborate mockumentary or prank a la This is Spinal Tap or Forgotten Silver.
But, over the course of Edgar Wright’s (Baby Driver, Shaun of the Dead) lovingly crafted, perfectly pitched and appropriately quirky two-and-a-quarter-hour deep dive into the wild world of the Mael brothers, you’re highly likely to not only become a believer, but a rabid fan. Like all the best modern music documentaries this is a riot of audio-visual montaging, striking the right balance between archival footage and talking heads and letting the protagonists’ personalities speak for themselves.
That’s never more important than here, with two such strong cult “characters”, but ones nobody could claim to be overly familiar with.
For the most part, Wright lets their music, accompanying videos, fellow musicians and celebrity fans speak for them, with each album and change of musical direction dissected in engrossing and sometimes hilarious detail.
You’ll learn how their love of westerns and war films since early childhood has been a major influence, how “no success was big enough for them and no failure too small” and that their sense of humour was probably what held them back from being a “bigger force’” in music. Then again who could possibly resist not at least listening to tracks with titles like Edith Piaf (Said it Better Than Me) or Lighten Up, Morrissey.
Occasionally Wright even can’t resist injecting himself into the conversation, such is his clear enthusiasm for this project and Sparks themselves.
The best thing I can say about this truly unforgettable tale is that it appears to perfectly reflect the Maels and their sensibilities. As one interviewee puts it: “they’re a rock band with a point-of-view – a sense of joy”.
- James Croot, STUFF
The Sparks Brothers is now playing exclusively at Light House Cuba!