I am a newcomer to the Sparks phenomenon. Perhaps that’s because I’m not as cool as Flea, Beck, Jason Schwartzman, Neil Gaiman, or Amy Sherman-Palladino, who are longtime followers…or perhaps I didn’t have someone like Edgar Wright to take me by the hand and induct me into their claque. But now that I’ve seen Wright’s new documentary The Sparks Brothers I’m a believer.
Russell and Ron Mael—yes, they’re actual siblings—have been making their own kind of music for almost fifty years. Iconoclasts through and through, they’ve changed their style of music multiple times, refusing to repeat themselves and willing to alienate some fans by adopting radical new ideas. Through it all, they have remained true to themselves, often using sly, satiric humor to deal with issues of commercialism and loyalty. (I get the idea that they’ve always been suspicious of widespread approval.) While cloaking themselves in a kind of mystique, Russell filled the nominal role of dishy lead singer while his deadpan brother Ron wrote the songs and played keyboards.
Edgar Wright charts their career from the beginning to the present day, using archival footage and testimonials from longtime fans and former bandmates to explore their esthetic principles… as well as their career ups and downs.
If you’ve never seen them perform you might be wondering what their music is like. That’s difficult to answer because their style has changed so many times…but it’s always lively and infused with humor. Their fondness for film, especially French New Wave cinema, made them ideally suited to the era of music videos. Plans for collaborations with various directors have fallen though, but now they’ve partnered with Leos Carax for the feature film Annette, which is due this summer. Now that I’ve sampled Sparks I can’t wait to see it.