Sparks | Exotic Creatures of the Deep
Most Likely To: boldly go where only Sparks dare.
For years, Sparks has displayed a knack for the absolute silliness of the Scissor Sistors and a taste for operatic schmaltz comparable to that of Queen. Sparks has preceded Exotic Creatures of the Deep with 20 other studio albums since 1970 with titles like Lil’ Beethoven (2002) and Gratuitous Sax and Senseless Violins (1994). They make elaborately low bows to both classical music with multi-part vocal harmonies, woodwinds and strings, and dance music with synth-laden house beats.
When I listen to quirky, piano-driven dance numbers like “Let the Monkey Drive,” (a recent NPR Song of the Day) I picture a 17th Century virtuoso in a powder wig and red tailcoat banging away on his klavier with a Nu-Rave DJ setup beside him mixing in the beats. These songs are miniature masterpieces comprised of unlikely dichotomies: classical with house/dance; grandiose with absurd; antiquated with post-modern.
As immediately salient as their expertise writing and recording is their irreverence. Their songs have titles like “(She Got Me) Pregnant” and “I Can’t Believe You Would Fall for All the Crap in This Song.” The juxtaposition of their absurd, occasionally humorous lyrics with the maestro image and heavy bass reminds one of the effect that college a cappella groups create when they sing the Super Mario Bros. theme or of sitting in a dark house and cranking an old Savotage record (which this reviewer once did). When an artist makes a grandiose gesture with a wink in his/her eye, it’s difficult not to smile, and Sparks has both the gesture and the wink down.
Perhaps the best illustration of these tensions is the song “Photoshop.” Here, Sparks makes use of all the vocal and instrumental gags in their arsenal, creating an incredibly melodramatic tone that is at once belied and ironically reinforced by the plaintive narrative of an apparent tweener repeatedly begging a friend, “Photoshop me out of your life.”
Essentially, Exotic Creatures of the Deep is pure, extremely well produced fun. I can’t imagine listening to it more than a few times every couple years, but I’m confident it will draw at least a few grins each time around.