Sparks "Live At The Record Plant 1974" (2023 Record Store Day Black Friday LP)

For Record Store Day Black Friday in 2023, a live LP by Sparks was issued in a limited edition of 3,500 copies, pressed in clear vinyl. Live At The Record Plant 1974 documents a live-in-the-studio eight-song set from a lineup consisting of most of the personnel from that year's Propaganda album. This live album has frequently appeared as a bootleg in the past. This RSDBF LP marks its first official release, on Sony's Sound City imprint.

For those not familiar with Sparks, they are an art-pop duo with a long and complicated 50-plus-year history that isn't over yet. (Their 26th studio album, titled The Girl Is Crying in Her Latte, was released last year). The Mael brothers -- the only two constant members -- were born in Los Angeles, but you wouldn't know it from their seemingly Euro-centric sound. In fact, they never achieved much commercial success in America, but they were all the rage in England in the mid-'70's, when they successfully appealed to that country's glam-rock market. They have been compared to David Bowie, Queen, Roxy Music, and ELO, but they really sound like no one else. Russell Mael's over-the-top falsetto, Ron Mael's musical experimentation, and the duo's strange sense of humor have always made them unique. Their output over the years has often been wildly inconsistent, which is one of the reasons why they are loved by their cult following.

For the concert featured on this RSD Black Friday release, the Mael brothers were backed by British musicians Ian Hampton on bass, Dinky Diamond on drums, and Trevor White on guitar. The eight songs are drawn from the Sparks' two 1974 studio albums, Kimono My House and Propaganda, which were both successful in England. For this live set, they were back in the States performing in their home town of Los Angeles.

Ron Mael's keyboard playing is often reminiscent of German cabaret music, while Russell's falsetto is less shrill in this setting than on record. Their three supporting players here gave them a hard-rock backbone. It's easy to understand why Sparks appealed to listeners in the U.K. at this point in time; their sound during this period bore some resemblance to Queen, and some to Roxy Music. Still, their music was uniquely the creation of the Mael Brothers. This fun and fast-paced set found them in rollicking good form throughout. One of the highlights is a nearly-six-minute extended version of "This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us". Another noteworthy moment: Trevor White's guitar work on "Thank God It's Not Christmas" predicted the new wave sound that would emerge a few years later. Although the music of Sparks can sometimes be difficult to approach, Live At The Record Plant 1974 is one of the cases in which it has plenty of rock and roll immediacy. In fact, it may not be a bad place for an unfamiliar listener to start.

Sparks "Live At The Record Plant 1974" (Sound City RRC-0026) 2023

Track Listing:

1. Hasta Manana Monsieur
2. Something For The Girl With Everything
3. Talent Is An Asset
4. Thank God It’s Not Christmas
5. B.C.
6. Here In Heaven
7. This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us
8. Amateur Hour