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Los Angeles legends and music innovators Sparks, best known in the States for their '80s hit "Cool Places" with Jane Wiedlin, has actually been around for nearly 30 years, consistently putting out records and developing a cult following. Precursors to electronica, synth-pop, and new wave, the brothers Ron and Russell Mael have inspired such varied acts as Ween, Fear, and They Might Be Giants. With an ironic, irreverent way of looking at the world reflected in their wordplay and dramatic productions that are highlighted by the coldness of heavy synthesizers, they come across like a combination of the Pet Shop Boys, Men Without Hats, and a splash of Devo. Despite the welcome dichotomy created by their silly lyrics and detached synths, there is something forlorn about the duo's melodies -- even when singing lines like "I'm much more than this/more than a sex machine," covering odd topics like an ode to Scheherezade or explaining "How to get Your Ass Kicked." This being Sparks' 18th album, the Mael brothers clearly know what they're doing. Though both the lyrics and the production are quirky, there is nothing dumb about them. To be able to make a song called "More Than a Sex Machine" anthemic shows just how elegant and how smart the Maels are. The melodies have brilliant pop hooks and Russell's voice soars. Balls made it worth the three-year wait between this and their last album, Plagiarism.

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