SPARKS

Monday, May 30, 2005

Angst In My Pants - Who Wears The Pants In This Family?!

By Madeline Bocaro ©
The lovely couple on the album cover made perfect musical harmony once again, and it sure looks like they enjoyed their Niagara Falls honeymoon as illustrated in a scintillating photo on the inner sleeve!

However, we are not fooled by this deceptive depiction into believing that Russell actually wears the pants in the Mael family. Although he is trying to feign purity and virtue, it is indeed the unshaven Mael order bride who is behind all this madness!

To start off the 80’s with their focus back on America, Sparks returned to a rockier, guitar-oriented sound imbued with danceability. They even revisited  the five-piece band format, including the Bates Motel band; Les Boheme on bass, Bob Haag on guitar, David Kendrick on drums and James Goodwin on synth.

Giorgio Moroder’s protégé Mack programmed some
minimal, yet punctual synthesizers, giving the album a built-in
revved-up engine.

In 1982 Angst In My Pants on Atlantic records became
Sparks’ first U.S. top 100 album. The single “I Predict” garnered
significant airplay, especially on the west coast on good old KROQ.
The peculiarly provocative video for “I Predict” was banned by MTV, not
for its bizarre sexual content, but for the political incorrectness of
Ron’s moustache! They were completely off target…nobody was looking at
his moustache! We were utterly distracted by all the sexual energy Ron
was radiating onstage at the strip club in his corset and feather boa!
Despite the M.T.V. (Moustache Too Vulgar) video veto, the single
reached #60 in the U.S. charts in March of 1982. The video was finally
reinstated - for late night viewing only - on MTV the following summer.

During Sparks’ television appearance on NBC’s Saturday Night Live (May
15, 1982) Ron recited a lengthy monologue on the rodent species,
prefacing the song “Mickey Mouse”. The band also performed their new
single, the uncanny “I Predict”. Ron’s now infamous shuffle, then in
its infancy, had its monumental TV debut on this show!

Sparks performed “I Predict” (as ‘Bandstanders’ might say, “It has a
good beat, but you can’t dance to it!) and ” Eaten By The Monster of
Love” on American Bandstand in September of 1982 - Sparks’ third of six
appearances on that legendary show. Russell defined the word ‘angst’ to
host Dick Clark as, “A German word meaning problems or stress, but in
this case, in the pants region.”

In Russell’s opinion at the time, this was the most ‘pleasant’ Sparks
album to listen to. He varied his vocal range throughout, and the tunes
were less complex - even catchy. American radio appreciated the album
and actually played it! However, there were those who were disappointed
in Sparks’ return to a full band format, and the gripes would continue
when the band would again waver to a more electronic sound. You just
can’t win!

Sparks toured America throughout the summer of ’82. They also supported
Rick Springfield on his U.S. tour. Russell sparkled in a glistening
sequined suit (the colour varied at each gig). Ron, the mysterious
deadpan figure, usually firmly planted behind his keyboards, now began
to nurture his inner child which emerged in a scary, full drag
strip-tease in the David Lynch directed “I Predict” video (not a pretty
sight), in a wedding gown on the album’s cover and in several quirky
stage routines including a wacky shuffle and tap dance, and a mime to
Abbott & Costello’s ‘Who’s On First?’ routine with a stuffed toy dog
(at Hollywood’s Whiskey A Go Go). Things were looking up!

The album’s opening title track features Russell singing in what might
possibly be his lowest register, then bringing it up an octave to
stress that even YOU may very well be inadvertently sitting on some
angst! After an intro that sounds like a steamship’s horn, the melody
and instrumentation are simple and sparse, yet beautiful. Who else
would write such a happy-go-lucky song about a certain gravity-defying
male reflex? The Maels told America’s Trouser Press magazine in
November, 1982 that Ron came up with the melody at the last minute. Ron
plays every instrument on the track except for David Kendrick’s drum
tape loop. The song was mixed and completed in just one day!

In “I Predict” Russell portrays a pretentious clairvoyant. Sparks had
usually been quite accurate in predicting future musical climates and
beating everyone to the punch. In this song they seem to have
delusional visions of psychic grandeur, but who knows, maybe cold beer
and pretzels really do cure cancer! Has anybody ever tried it? The
catchy hand-clapping beat and heavy bass drum get your feet tapping in
no time. They should play this one in baseball stadiums instead of
Queen’s “We Will Rock You”.

“Sextown U.S.A.” is the precursor to “All You Ever Think About is Sex”
on the next album. Both songs are about, um…sex, and they concur that
sex is fun in a variety of locations. These are Sparks’ most
straight-forward lyrics and they have received no arguments to date.
The Maels seem somewhat envious of the supposedly sexy sleuth in
“Sherlock Holmes”. Where did they get the foggy notion that Sherlock
impressed women? Hey Ron & Russ, here’s a bit of advice; there are a
lot of guys out there right now telling their girlfriends, “I can’t
sing like Russell Mael, I can’t write songs like Ron Mael, just pretend
I’m Russell Mael, uh oh, uh oh, yeah.” So just go with what you’ve got!
You are SPARKS! What could be cooler than that! Just use your old
trusty pick-up line, “Kimono my house, mon amour!” Women will surely
melt in your arms. There is some sort of synthesized wind instrument
sound on this one, impersonating a flute perhaps? Anyway, it’s quite
effective and the middle eight is pure Sparks!

The Surgeon General could have used “Nicotina” as his mascot. Who
wouldn’t sympathize with this poor little burnt-out cigarette and quit
smoking pronto! She was so cute until the Marlboro man inhaled her. The
melody seems to be Russian derived and has some wicked guitar work by
Bob Haag.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse and all their pals run rampant in a paradise
where animals are people too, in a tribute to Disneyland. The next song
is dedicated to the power of the “Moustache” and how it makes a man,
commands respect, alienates a certain religious group and
(unfortunately) reveals what a man has ingested for lunch. Another
upbeat tune to which Ron shaves his off completely in the video.
Parenthetically, he grew it back again!

“Instant Weight Loss” becomes ‘instant weight gain’ in case anyone
didn’t know. It’s zoo time once again on “Tarzan And Jane” when
Chemistry class degenerates into de-evolution with a tribal drumbeat.
It’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys!

In “The Decline and Fall of Me” our singer is reduced to a bumbling
idiot in an unwarranted tale of low self esteem. The poor guy has even
started a collection of frozen pizzas! This song contains the following
stunning couplet;

“ Where’s my mouth, man, this eating is rough on the shirts
Gee, I’m sorry about the thermometer, nurse.”

There are very few Sparks songs containing the word ‘love’ and the
single, “Eaten By The Monster Of Love” is one of them. It’s not really
about ‘love’. It’s more about the ‘monster’ with graphic descriptions
of what he’ll do to you and how to avoid him. A fun party song, if
you’re going to a strange party. This song, along with the title track
was featured on the Valley Girl film soundtrack.

Well, it certainly looks like this marriage will last a lifetime! I
wonder who caught the bride’s lovely bouquet of daffodils!