Sparks Lil' Beethoven

The brother team of songwriter and instrumentalist Ron and vocalist Russell Mael have not only had one of the most peculiar careers over the past 33 years as Sparks, they’ve also made some unique music as part of very disparate scenes. From their art-pop beginnings through their glam rock heyday in the mid-’70s, they then scored disco hits in the late ’70s and were hugely influential on the new wave electro-pop scene of the ’80s. On 2002’s Lil’ Beethoven, now available through Palm/EMI in Canada, the pair pull it off again. The full-on orchestral treatments match Russell’s operatic voice and Ron’s epic compositions perfectly, bringing to mind some of their best ’70s output. However, there are plenty of reference points to their electro-pop, disco and house personas of the ’80s and ’90s, with repetitive, chorused vocal chants that drive each track. Lyrically the band is at top form with Ron’s always satirical take on the world at large, ripping a strip off of current musical trends on "What Are All These Bands So Angry About?” and "The Rhythm Thief” and always one with a sharp eye to personal relationships "I Married Myself” ("…this time it’s going to last.”) The album’s best tracks are actually the two closers, the rock driven "Ugly Guys and Beautiful Girls” and the Broadway show tune send up of "Suburban Homeboy.” "I am a suburban homeboy with a ho right by my side. She’s known as Miss Missy Tannenbaum and she’s one freak bitch, ain’t no lie. She’s from the projects in St. Tropez. She looks like Iverson in a way.” (Palm Pictures)