Previously the frontman of indie punk also-rans Vatican DC and co-writer of the Prodigy's frenetic bonus album track "Wild West," Swedish singer/songwriter Tommy Sparks' self-titled debut album eschews the anarchic nature of his previous output for the kind of streamlined '80s-influenced pop sound favored by fellow countrymen Alphabeat, Robyn, and Annie. Indeed, apart from the brief but instantly memorable two minutes of "I'm a Rope," an urgent blend of Klaxons-esque nu-rave and spiky Kaiser Chiefs-inspired Brit rock, its 12 tracks offer very little evidence of his former Pixies-inspired, grunge-loving, Bloc Party-supporting past, even with the presence of Arctic Monkeys and Foals producer Mike Crossey on board. His D.I.Y. ethics are still firmly intact (Sparks plays every instrument on the album, recorded in a studio next to his mother's house just outside Stockholm), but they're accompanied by a number of hook-laden, fun-packed, and highly addictive tunes which create the feel of an early Now That's What I Call Music compilation. The driving grooves, funky guitar licks, and Sparks' jerky vocals on opening track "Much Too Much" recall the quirky art rock of Talking Heads; the unsettling "Velo Arktis" combines the menacing synths of Gary Numan and the corny singalong melodies of Eurovision winners Bucks Fizz with bizarrely engaging results, while the clubby "Weekend's Over" fuses Two-Tone ska riffs with lolloping New Order-style basslines and an inspired use of the vocoder. Elsewhere there are flashes of the Cocteau Twins ( "Health Club" ), Prefab Sprout ( "Miracle" ) and the Psychedelic Furs ("Brand New Love"), but Sparks provides enough invention of his own to avoid being labeled just a clever '80s tribute act. Signature tune "She Got Me Dancing," recently used on an iPod advert, is perhaps one of the most joyous and immediate singles of the last few years, thanks to its playful, squeaky synth intro, infectious handclaps, and tight disco riffs, while his collaboration with house producers Filthy Dukes on the album's finale "Messages" is a floor-filling exercise in kaleidoscopic electro. On paper, Tommy Sparks could have been just another indie rocker jumping on the electro-pop bandwagon, but his genuine fondness and unashamed enthusiasm for all things '80s shine through on one of the more cohesive and consistent recent retro offerings.
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien
feat: Filthy Dukes