Indiscreet - Sparks


26. Mai. 2009, 8:27

Indiscreet is a trickier proposition for a review than Kimono My House or Propaganda have been. As I have said previously, KMH pretty much knocked me out of my seat the first time I heard it, and I think was gushing into this journal by the third track, something I honestly do very little of at all. I listened to nothing else that evening. As far as immediacy goes, I know of no better album. Propaganda took a little longer, but the ingredients were really very similar, so I knew what to expect and, for the most part, got it. So far, so easy.

Now, I am ashamed but unsurprised that on first listen, I dismissed Indiscreet as "annoying", and moved on. I have had similar reactions to Damned Damned Damned ("just noise"), The Idiot ("tries too hard")and Roxy Music ("pretentious"), all of which have been smashed for six by now. Let me try to remember/justify what I felt then.

First, guitars. Where were they? Where was the roar of This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both Of Us, or the impossibly glorious frenzy of Something For The Girl With Everything, or the soaring majesty of Here In Heaven, Thank God It's Not Christmas, Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth? Where, in short, were Sparks? Now, of course, I know I just had to look a little deeper, and, above all, accustom myself to strings. The irony of which is that now I prefer the strings version of This Town on Plagiarism to the original. Uh, whoops?

I think the bottom line is that Indiscreet is just weird in every possible way. Where the music of the earlier two was unconventional and experimental, it was still in essence guitars, drums, bass, keyboards. It was loud and it rocked, and the vocals followed suit. I don't think even at my most unhinged I would say that Indiscreet rocks. Words that come to mind are, strangely, dainty, eccentric, jaunty, (dare I say camp? no, I don't think I do)

Take the first track, Hospitality On Parade.

Opening lines:
Someday we'll have one extra coastline
We'll tire of the Atlantic
By then we'll be rid of your lot
A shot heard round the world will soon
be shot, will soon be shot
'Til then have some tea and tobacco
Hey Jenny meet your master
Be nice show him kindness and such
Be kind to our master
But a feeling is a-brewing that we
don't need any masters
'Cause we all can be a master
and we all can be a king

Not much different, I hear you say, to the kind of lyrics found on KMH and Propaganda. True, but I think the difference here is that the vocals seem to take top priority. And maybe they were just that little bit more self-conscious. It's only occasionally, but sometimes I think that on this album, they thought, "Russell's falsetto (faulsetto was what I first typed, damn me) is eccentric and wacky, right? Let's do us some more of that". First I heard Sparks, I fell in love with the sound. The words themselves I could take or leave. Indiscreet didn't give me that choice, so I had to listen to it differently. Being far too lazy for my own good, I consequently did not listen to it properly, and the rest is history. History documented, conveniently enough, in this journal entry.

I wasn't going to do a track-by-track of this album because although I intend to do reviews for all (!) Sparks albums (vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself) I don't want to get stuck into routine for them. But then I realised I pretty much had already, so here it is:

Going back to Hospitality On Parade just briefly, though it starts slowly and relatively uninterestingly and remains so for at least a couple of minutes, it does have that classic Sparks, "now the song is really getting going" moment at 2:26. A precursor to the famous moment in Dick Around, perhaps, with unexpected guitar? And just before then, who could possibly have a cold heart towards Russell's wailing in the background, IIIII'mmmm so specciallllllllll, heeeeeee's so speciallllllll, heeeee's sooo speciallllll and IIIIIIII'm a kiiiiiii-iiiiingggg!? However critical I may force myself to be, the bottom line is all he has to do is sing something, or anything really, very very loudly and baldly and all is forgiven. That, and the introduction of the guitar in the second half, make this song almost worthy of its record-beginning position.

Happy Hunting Ground has a lot more energy. And a lot more words. And a lot more guitar. And maybe even more handclaps, just. Less is more my foot. It has a slowing down moment instead of a speeding up moment, and just ticks far more boxes all around than Hospitality on Parade does. It even has the requisite innocuous lyrics that with closer attention reveal the irredeemably twisted mind of Ron Mael, who I think was a dirty old man before he was even born.

Without Using Hands
Again, took me a while to warm up to, and frankly I'm still not all that warm. Russell's vocals are perfectly cheeky, the music saunters along, but for all that there is nothing that makes me want this song over any other. I think if I were to take away Russell's charisma, I would be left with a song that I didn't like. Oh dear.

Get In The Swing
I have mixed feelings about this track. I love the opening, the marching band, the whistle, the whirl of it. But overall the lyrics leave me a bit bemused. I like the chorus, and That they also serve who sit and wait/They're cheaper than painting/And don't need explaining. But the questionnaire thing: weird yes, relevant how? I prefer at least a skerrick of sense in my songs, even if it is just that the common theme is pineapples (see below). Bleurgh, maybe I am just in the wrong mood, but the music is so incredibly brilliant I guess I have to pick on the lyrics.

Under The Table With Her is delightful. It just conjures the sweetest visual:

Nobody misses diminutive offspring
Not when there's big wigs there, there
Dinner for twelve is now dinner for ten
'Cause I'm under the table with her

There is honestly not much to say about this. It's just good. Short and good. Fine family fun.

How Are You Getting Home?
I loathed this song. I really did. Pointless, repetitive, banal. Then one moment, one day, something must have broken in my head or something, because now every single time he asks I crack up. It reminds me of a puppy or a child, asking incessantly for a treat, because maybe if they ask enough times someone will give it to them. And then, I'm really only curious? Oh yes, Russell, you have convinced me; you can not possibly have any ulterior motives. It's an excellent vocal performance, too, which I often forget because of how simple the concept is.

Don't let me push you baby
What I like is your independence
Real spunk, real independence
And there's my car

THIS is why I love Sparks.

This track, famous for being composed by Russell Mael all by his wee little self, is about pineapple. I guess he, uh, likes pineapple? The lead-in to the chorus is neat-o (every song could do with a good BANG-BANG), and I am nearly convinced that to make up for Ron not writing the thing, he is singing in it. Who else could it be singing the lower parts in the chorus? It sounds exactly like I imagine he would sound singing. Shall the truth ever be known? Overall, this song is fun but definitely justifies Ron being the main songwriter.

On that note, Tits. It took me ages to listen to this closely enough to realise what was really going on, I thought some guy was just getting drunk, bitching about his lack of sex life to his reluctant friend (TMI to the extreme) and imploring him to join in the drinking. The one telling verse (Harry, I know it's you who's breaking up my home) is tucked away and treated just like any other. And now I come to think of it, we don't even know if his suspicions are justified. So I'll class this song as a well-constructed grandiose drunken romp and put it back with the others.

From It Ain't 1918 onwards is when I start to really enjoy myself. Listening to it now I can't put my finger on anything. It is some combination of

The quickfire storytelling:
Johnny met a girl who was a beauty
Johnny never thought to live in sin
"Do you take this girl?"
"Yes I take this girl"
Johnny had a next of kin

The unusual subject of people being envious that Johnny and his family are perfectly happy being conservative:
Johnny thanked the St. Lou folk
But told them in a voice so sad
That he would rather stay as is
The people of St. Lou were mad, and they said
It ain't 1918 for us or for you
If we can't enjoy it...
Then neither will you

Like I said about A Rose for Emily, I think the fact that this idea was made into a song is more of a reason for my liking the song than the song itself.

The Lady Is Lingering was actually an early favourite of mine. The lyrics are really strong, so as they were what I first noticed, naturally the strongest lyrics made it the best song. I think my favourite was:

Every sip is of the smallest quantity
That still denotes apparent thirst

It will never stop amazing me how naturally Russell can deliver this stuff. When I read it just there, my though was, "laaaaaame". But it isn't, and that is the mystery. The whole song reads that way, so WHY isn't it lame? Is it in the lyrics themselves? Is it Russell? Is it me, liking the band enough that I overlook the lameness? I don't think it's the latter, but I sure don't know what it actually is.

In The Future is awesome. Manic and gleeful, disjointed and sparkly. Almost Kimono-esque, but with that touch of faux elegance and class that Indiscreet calls its own. And as for the subject matter, is there a more appealing way of describing the future than:
Convenience and pleasure
All blended together
I don't think so.

And the segue into Looks, Looks, Looks is nothing short of genius. I can just see Russell Mael, big band crooner. Though I doubt he would be singing this song. This song, incidentally, makes a nice little set with Funny Face, I Wish I Looked A Little Better and Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls as the Sparks essays on aesthetics.

Then, to the closer Miss The Start, Miss The End, one of those Sparks songs which are clever, and funny, but also subtly tragic (see also I Married Myself, Equator, Nicotina, Change, Rock, Rock, Rock).

The six words 'Cause they're such very good friends just says so much.

In the beginning, they are the idiots:

Neither has a predilection
Neither has an afterthought
And neither's chair gets warm at all
And neither takes their jacket off
For this they'll pay the same money to see the event
As you and I and we'll see it all

They've never seen a curtain rise
A kick-off or the final gun
And never have they seen the titles
Flashing cross the rising sun

Then, it's not certain:

The opening bars and the closing bars might as well not exist
They're not needed, needed, really needed
You and I have got to see the start
You and I have got to see the end

By the end, I am left feeling pathetic for wanting to sit in the cinema to watch the credits of movies:

We need more than just each other
So much more than just each other
They don't need more than each other
Not much more than just each other

They don't need the total picture,
Just a drawing of each other
Hung inside the bungalow,
Where wondrous things are all discovered
You and I must see how it starts and ends
And tell them what they missed once again

Sigh. Sparks, eh. For all Indiscreet's flaws, it's a hell of an album. My least favourite of all they had done up to that point, but still. It's a testament to the longevity, originality, creativity et cetera ad nauseam of Sparks that this album may struggle to find itself in their top ten, at least how I see it.


  • Rissacakes

    I actually really liked "Indiscreet" the first time I heard it, hahah. Maybe that makes me a weirdo or something. Played the life out of that record. :)

    7. Jun. 2009, 7:54
  • brianfizzy

    My all-time favorite Sparks record is Indiscreet, High praise as I love almost all of their records! Indiscreet is the most unhinged and wacky. runners up for genius: "Propaganda", "Angst in my Pants", "Kimino", "Exotic Creatures", "Big Beat". "Tips For Teens" was the first Sparks song I ever heard and I've been hooked ever since. i enjoyed your review (even though you're wrong) :)

    6. Sep. 2009, 6:02
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