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Pop Music | RECORD RACK

Skilled in the area of pop arias

March 19, 2006|Randy Lewis

Sparks

"Hello Young Lovers" (In the Red)

* * * 1/2

AS startlingly original as was Sparks' previous album, 2004's "Lil' Beethoven," the veteran L.A. duo seemed to paint itself into a corner. How do you follow a work that defied and ridiculed every imaginable convention and limitation of pop music?

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 23, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 25 words Type of Material: Correction
Sparks photographer -- A photograph of the rock duo Sparks in Sunday Calendar was incorrectly credited to Ron Derhacopian. It was taken by Aaron Rapoport.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday March 26, 2006 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 0 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Sparks photographer -- A photograph of the rock duo Sparks last Sunday was incorrectly credited to Ron Derhacopian. It was taken by Aaron Rapoport.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday March 26, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Sparks photographer: A photograph of the rock duo Sparks in the March 19 Calendar section was incorrectly credited to Ron Derhacopian. It was taken by Aaron Rapoport.

"Beethoven" tossed out standard rock instrumentation and verse-bridge-chorus song form in attacking the dumbing-down of culture in general and pop music in particular. "Hello Young Lovers" (in stores Tuesday) ramps everything up with witty, even more densely packed compositions that are more pop arias than songs.

Siblings Ron and Russell Mael rely on heavily orchestrated string and keyboard-laden settings and chorale-like multi-tracking of Russell's elastic voice, accented by jagged guitars and occasional rock drums. Lyrical and musical phrases repeat, sometimes to ridiculous extremes, to illustrate themes about self-destructive attitudes people carry through life.

Far from pointless novelty, the effect is a powerful examination of the complexity of human relations more often hinted at in pop music than musically manifested. And it's often wickedly funny -- the group's abiding sense of humor remains the clown's smile masking an aching heart often lurking beneath.

"Perfume" name-checks famous fragrances in a treatise about focusing on the present rather than the past, and Sparks takes war-as-aphrodisiac to dizzying new heights with the stellar pickup line that's the title of "(Baby, Baby) Can I Invade Your Country?"

It builds to a remarkable climax with "As I Sit Down to Play the Organ in the Notre Dame Cathedral" in which Sparks creates a "Hallelujah!" chorus of its own, as cathartic and richly satisfying in a pop music setting as Handel's. Amen.

*

Randy Lewis

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