❉ The drapes are drawn and the lights are low but this is a far cry from an amateur hour.
As a teenager, I grew up in my room listening to songs by The Beatles, Pet Shop Boys and Sparks on loop, adoring them and wishing I had their wit, intelligence, lust, love, musicianship and voice.
As an adult, this year for this website I’ve been lucky enough to review output from all three bands, and luckier still to see the final two live, both of them in great form.
I write this in Norwich where Sparks kicked off the UK tour of their new album, Hippopotamus, at The Waterfront on September 18, 2017. It was cold outside but packed inside; the queue before doors opened literally crawled down a street and an issue across the night was people desperately squeezing past others dancing along to the music as they tried in desperation to get to the bar. There was barely room to swing a cat, let alone get in the swing (pal) with everybody and everything.
After a support act had come and gone, there was a lengthy pause before Sparks took to the stage, launching the gig with What The Hell Is It This Time? before taking us back in time with Propaganda and At Home, At Work, At Play. Much of the song list flitted around Sparks’s back catalogue and the balance between old and new felt perfectly executed.
I know, however, that I must have been asleep throughout the gig. I must have been dreaming when My Baby’s Taking Me Home and Hospitality On Parade kicked in. How else to explain that the choice of songs was almost perfectly synced up with what I’d have loved to hear them do live in a fantasy set?
From well-loved singles such as When Do I Get To Sing “My Way” and The Number One Song in Heaven, to “known” songs like the inevitable This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us, to lesser-known songs such as Sherlock Holmes, the hit rate was relentless and the tracks taken off Hippopotamus were very well chosen, with Scandinavian Design and Hippopotamus itself earning especially good feedback.
Maybe it’s that the new album has received almost universal critical acclaim? Perhaps it was the buzz that the album has reached number seven in the U.K. Album Chart, a fact Russell Mael gleefully informed the room to huge cheers? Could it be the intimacy of The Waterfront generating the warmth? Was it the energy that Russell and Ron Mael alike had? (As ever, Ron’s dancing earnt the band one of the loudest cheers of the night!)
I couldn’t say. I just know it was a delightfully happy atmosphere from start to finish, celebrating an album that has been deservedly praised and a back catalogue that came alive with some superb musicianship. There is a clip online of Sparks performing the song Singing In The Shower live where Russell Mael looks utterly joyful and excited to be there, and that was the same air in the room tonight. It was electrifying.
The drapes were (metaphorically) drawn and the lights were low, but this was a far cry from an amateur hour. Indeed, I have been lucky enough to see Sparks live a few times now but I don’t think they have ever been as good as they were here.
The decline and fall of the Mael brothers is a long way off yet, so don’t worry. This town may not be big enough for the both of them, but I cannot see either leaving any time soon.
❉ Sparks – ‘Hippopotamus’ was released September 8 2017 on BMG