Sparks -wt Lil’ Beethoven -wl Palm Pictures -wf These guys continue to define cutting edge music, even when it sucks. Sparks is one of those second-tier bands that’s been working since the mid ’70s, has 20 or so albums under their belts, a few hits, but still very few know about Russ and Ron Mael. Maybe that’s because they spent a good deal of their career in Europe, maybe because they’ve emphasized lyrics over hooks, or their name just doesn’t sound “rock and roll.” -wm Their new album emphasizes a chant-like form, and while there is rhythm, it’s made to sound anti-danceable. Opening cut “The Rhythm Thief” explores what a pop song without rhythm might sound like. I can reliably report that it’s weird; sure, a bit of rhythm lurks somewhere under the drum beats, but it’s so elusive I dare anyone to tap it out while listening to the song. They continue in this vein for a while, with only “I Married Myself” harkening back to the sounds of Sparks circa 1980 – which I regard as the pinnacle of their career. Sly humor works its way though the layers of sound, epitomized on “Your Call is Very Important To Us, Please Hold.” It sounds like they are trying to call an ex-girlfriend, only to end up on hold. It’s an indignity, to be sure, and one best viewed from the distance of a pop record. -wm If you’re an old Sparks fan, you know about these guys and their evolution into the 21st century. For a newcomer, older discs might be a better introduction to the Mael brothers’ versatility. But then again, you have to start somewhere, and you could do a lot worse than this disc. -wd Palm Pictures: -wb Carl F Gauze

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