Three decades is a long time to be making music for any band, but that's precisely how long Ron and Russell Mael, a.k.a. Sparks, have been producing it. Started in roughly 1970 as the band Halfnelson, Ron and Russell changed their name to Sparks with the insistency of their label, who thought that their name was to blame for lack of sales. Thirty-five years and 20 albums later, we have Hello Young Lovers, arguably their career-topping master opus, which consists of part electronic, part opera, part rock/pop, but as different as anything you've ever heard.
To review an album by a band that has been making music for over three decades is a very arduous and humbling task indeed, and one could get lost trying to cover everything this band has accomplished. One item of note however is the fact that Sparks have been very many a band's influence, including New Order, Soft Cell, Erasure and The Darkness, to name but a very few. Without Sparks, none of those bands may have existed, for better or worse.
Sparks non-formulaic opera-rock sounds like lost Queen tracks the likes of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Bicycle Race", especially on tracks like "Dick Around" and "Metaphor" but with their own signature non-compliance modus operandi, and at first it sounds jilted and all over the place, then the pieces start falling into place quickly, and you begin to see just how painstakingly these tracks were made, panning modern society and spitting in the face of mechanical and prescribed modern rock. However, according to Ron Mael, "the album is bold, audacious and non-formulaic. Yet for all the eccentricity, we still feel Hello Young Lovers is very much centered in the spirit of pop music."
Standout tracks have to be "(Baby Baby) Can I Invade Your Country" (which is arguably the closest thing we get resembling a "normal" composition) which is basically a take on the Star-Spangled Banner, "As I Sit Down to Play the Organ at the Notre Dame Cathedral", which sports some nice organic jams which isn't heard much in this vacillating modern age of rock, and "Rock Rock Rock", which has a dramatic and gothic piano & bass feel to it, and lyrics like "since you have a gun to my head, I will rock rock rock", a song largely about the songwriting process itself.
Some love them, some hate them, but most respect them. Their style and approach is unlike anybody's making music today or indeed in musical history. Sadly, Hello Young Lovers probably won't instantly make any new Sparks fans, as it's basically more of the same material we've all come to know and love, especially 2002's Lil' Beethoven. But that's precisely why they are great: they rely on their own blueprint to make music, which is inherently different from everybody's out there. If you're looking for something different and refreshing, take this disc for a spin.