Whomp That Sucker

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"Tips for Teens" kicks off Sparks' first post-Moroder album (though it was produced by his longtime associate Mack) with a blast; as a rocking power-pop/new wave number, it slotted into everything around it at the time perfectly, but the sense was of the world catching up to Sparks rather than the band chasing the train (and only Sparks could come up with lines like "Don't eat that burger/Has it got mayonnaise/Give it to me"). The equally sharp and catchy "Funny Face" follows with a truly hilarious detailing of a person who looks so perfect that he throws himself off a bridge in despair; as a one-two start to an album, this simply couldn't be beat. Whomp doesn't totally maintain the levels of its near-perfect start, but Russell Mael's voice is still a sinfully pure instrument, and brother Ron's ear for instantly memorable should-have-been-massive pop runs rampant as ever. Meanwhile, a new full-time backing band recruited from young L.A. outfit Bates Motel does a pretty solid job at putting rock crunch back into the Sparks mix. Guitarist Bob Haag, bassist Leslie Bohem, and drummer David Kendrick aren't quite a match for the original lineup or the glam-era outfit, but they acquit themselves well nonetheless. As always, the Maels are the stars of the show, and more often than not they rise to the occasion. "I Married a Martian" is a definite highlight, with a big rock crunch meshing well with the space-age keyboard touches as Russell notes, "her loving is different/vive la difference." Favorites of long-time fans include "Suzie Safety," blessed with a lovely piano line and a clipped feedback riff, and "Wacky Women," with Russell offering up some "M√ľnich wisdom" on the subject.

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