Sparks

Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins

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Even the cover art is great, playing with the same fake tabloid style that Guns N' Roses tried but with funnier results. Beginning with a semi-echo of the start of Propaganda, with the a cappella "Gratuitous Sax" leading into the surging, well-deserved European smash hit "When Do I Get to Sing 'My Way'," Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins broke a near seven-year silence from Ron and Russell Mael -- the longest period of time by far since their start in between major releases. Rather than sounding tired or out of touch, though, the brothers gleefully embraced the modern synth/house/techno explosion for their own purposes (an explosion which, after all, they had helped start with their work during the late '70s with Giorgio Moroder). Solely recorded by the Maels with no outside help, Sax keeps that same, perfect Sparks formula -- Russell's sweet vocals soar with smart and suspect lyrics over Ron's sometimes fast and furious, sometimes slow and elegant melodies, here performed with detailed electronic lushness. They make their style live yet again, feeling far fresher here than on Interior Design. "(When I Kiss You) I hear Charlie Parker Playing" finds Russell rapping (!), "I Thought I Told You to Wait in the Car" has a great building chorus, and "Let's Go Surfing" helps wrap up the album with a wistfully triumphant call to arms. "Tsui Hark" is the one slight departure from the formula, featuring the Hong Kong director Hark himself giving a brief autobiography while a colleague speaks in Chinese. Though some longtime fans groused that they missed the more rocked-up Sparks of the early '70s (or early '80s) in comparison, all in all, Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins is a well-deserved return to form from a band which has deserved far more attention from the musical world, or the world at large, than they have received.

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