Thursday, November 5, 2009

Music that You Can Dance to (1986)

Later rereleased, in a somewhat confusing postmodern joke, as The Best of Sparks. Nobody would really call this the "best" of anything, but it's actually a comparative breath of fresh air--bookended by the band's two worst albums, this one somehow ain't so bad. Which isn't to say it's GREAT: "Shopping Mall of Love" comes down on the wrong side of that fine line between clever and stupid, the totally pointless cover of Stevie Wonder's "Fingertips" is…totally pointless (aside from being notable as one of, by my count, only four covers the band has ever done), and "Let's Get Funky" doesn't even come close to it.

But! "Modesty Blaise" (okay okay, for arcane copyright reasons, "Modesty Plays," but Russell is still obviously singing "Blaise," so why the charade?), the unused theme from a TV show about the comic strip character in question, is a very cool spy-type thing! "The Scene" is quite dramatic! And the minor hit single "Change" is pretty neat--it isn't the most musically interesting thing, but it's a good, wryly pained breakup song with a hopeful undertone and some very good wistfully bemused lyrics. "You know, I've been thinking we'll get back together again someday. Your hair will probably be some weird color then. Maybe we'll just start off again as friends. I wonder when?"

To give it its proper weight, we are giving the best song on the album its own paragraph. "Rosebud" is by FAR the best thing here, and one of the best Sparks songs ever--a soaringly, majestically bleak composition about a man whose wife is dying after a car crash. You don't generally think of Ron as one to write things like this, but here it is. It still has a somewhat Sparksian feel, but it's deadly serious, and the chorus, which goes "What will your mother say? What will your father say? What will the angels say--as they hide in disgrace from your beautiful face?" is just something else. The album would be worthwhile for that track alone, if we weren't all buying music a la carte these days if we're buying it at all.

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