Sparks coming to Lucerna

The cult band is releasing a new album in September

American cult band Sparks will be coming to Lucerna Music Bar on Sept. 11 as part of their Hippopotamus Tour 2017.

Sparks will be releasing their 24th studio album called Hippopotamus a few days earlier, and three singles are already out, including the title track plus “What the Hell Is It This Time” and “Edith Piaf (Said It Better than Me).”

Review site Under the Radar gave the upcoming album eight out of 10 stars. “Hippopotamus (like all Sparks albums) often functions like a short story, with each song reaching a narrative or thematic conclusion that often leaves the listener amused and/or befuddled, but always the wiser of some little overlooked absurdity in life,” the review stated.

The band is actually a duo of two brothers, Ron Mael on keyboards and Russell Mael on vocals. They have additional help on tour and in the studio, but the backup musicians have never been considered official band members.

Sparks never achieved top-rank status but bands like Nirvana, Arcade Fire, Depeche Mode, New Order and even Paul McCartney have cited them as an influence.

The band's roots go back to 1968 when the brothers from California performed under the name Halfnelson. By the mid 1970s they changed their name to Sparks and started to explore synth pop, and relocated to the UK where there was a growing glam rock scene.

The duo became known for their different look, with Ron Mael sporting a retro 1930s style haircut and mustache. Their lyrics, falsetto vocals and theatrical approach were also quite a change from what was typical for the time. Their style also changed constantly, which sometimes alienated fans who wanted more of the same each time.

Their third album, Kimono My House (1974), reached number four in the UK charts and was their breakthrough. Smiths lead singer Morrissey said the album was one reason he decided to embark on a music career. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana also listed it as one of his favorites.

Sparks made several appearances on British TV with the single “This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both of Us” and, according to their bio, regularly frightened British children.

Once the glam rock scene faded, the brothers moved back to the States.

In the US, the band had its biggest success in 1983 with the song “Cool Places” featuring the Go-Go's rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist, Jane Wiedlin. It reached 49 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and 13 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play chart.

The band has been active since then, regularly releasing albums that were well received but due to their experimental nature the songs were largely overlooked on the radio.

In 2009 they premiered the radio musical The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, which was commissioned by the Swedish public radio (SR). They have performed it live with actors several times and hope to have it turned into a film eventually.

In 2015 Sparks released a collaborative album with Scottish rock band Franz Ferdinand called FFS, which garnered mostly good reviews. “Franz Ferdinand's panicked dance rock gets a new lease, even if it's a mild reinvention. Meanwhile, Sparks are at their quirky best thanks to their newfound collaboration,” Ryan Bray said in his review for music website Consequence of Sound.

They have promised to work together in the future as well, but no details have been released.

They appeared at the Radio 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy in Glasgow in March, and played some songs from the new album along with hits from the past, with a seven-member band. Whether this will be the same lineup for the EU tour is not clear.


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