Listen to These Sparks Albums Before ‘The Girl is Crying in Her Latte’
The Girl is Crying in Her Latte is their 25th studio album, but there are six earlier essentials that deserve your attention first.
Sparks are truly an enigma. Formed by brothers Ron and Russell Mael, the duo have been releasing music under the Sparks name for over five decades. Over time, the Sparks brothers have shifted styles in such a seamless way that they’ve often found themselves at the forefront of entire music trends and movements. Rock and roll, in general, and the entire synth-pop genre would not be the same without the witty lyricism and eclectic compositions of Sparks.
With The Sparks Brothers documentary released in 2021, recent tours under their belts, and a music video starring Cate Blanchett to promote their latest single, the group has been experiencing a bit of a renaissance. The upcoming release of a new album called The Girl is Crying in Her Latte will be Sparks’ 25th studio album and the band has promised that the material on it is as bold and uncompromising as ever.
The documentary’s soundtrack includes some essential tracks, but you’ll get an even better idea of the impact Sparks has had on popular music if you spend some time with their records. Here are six Sparks albums that will help you get better acquainted with the band.
Kimono My House (1974)
Sparks first made their mark as an eccentric glam rock band, and Kimono My House is as good an introduction as any. Everything the band has become known for is already firmly in place by their third album. The quirky vocals, clever lyrics, and dynamic structures make this album a must-listen, and the guitar and bass punch found throughout helped define this era of the band. Songs like “Amateur Hour,” “Here In Heaven,” and “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us” will all set you on the right sonic path for your Sparks journey. It’s also worth mentioning that the brothers’ keen eye for design is already on full display here as the album showcases some unforgettable photography and art direction.
Although Propaganda (the follow-up to Kimono My House) is an incredible album, we are going to jump ahead to their fifth studio album, Indiscreet. Why? Because Indiscreet marks a shift in the Sparks sound and these shifts are an essential part of wrapping your head around a band with a career that spans over 50 years. The theatrical nature of their music reaches new heights here as the arrangements begin to move away from their more guitar and bass-driven glam material and incorporate strings and other classical influences. The result is an idiosyncratic album that features Sparks’ staples such as “Hospitality On Parade,” “Under The Table With Her,” and “Get In The Swing.”
No. 1 In Heaven (1979)
After dabbling with a more stripped-down sound (Big Beat) and releasing an album that wasn’t their strongest offering (Introducing Sparks), the Mael brothers decided to switch gears completely. No. 1 In Heaven represents one of Sparks’ biggest stylistic shifts and one that showed they were often a few years ahead of the curve. Recorded with nothing but electronic instruments under the guidance of Giorgio Moroder, the album became the template for the synth-pop sounds of the 1980s and beyond. It’s not even worth mentioning the names of songs as all six tracks are disco-driven dynamite.
Angst In My Pants (1982)
Sparks had a string of great synth-centric albums in the early ’80s, but one of the standouts is 1982’s Angst In My Pants. With multiple tracks being included in the Valley Girl soundtrack, an appearance on Saturday Night Live, and a bit of a hit with the song “I Predict,” the album remains a gem in the expansive Sparks discography. The album proved that Sparks not only predicted the synth-pop sounds of the decade, but could make a genius new wave record that rivaled the output of bands like Devo and Oingo Boingo. At this time, the band’s art aesthetic was also as impressive as ever. The imagery used for Angst In My Pants and the music videos they released around this time were incredibly inventive and another key component of what makes Sparks so unique.
Gratuitous Sax and Senseless Violins (1994)
After a series of albums in the late 1980s that produced mixed reactions from fans and critics, Sparks took a break to regroup. When they reemerged, they embraced the house sounds of the era that they helped kickstart back in 1979. Musically, lyrically, and aesthetically, this is another career highlight that ushered in a new chapter of the Sparks story. The song “When Do I Get To Sing ‘My Way’” became a smash hit in Europe and the album’s techno and Eurobeat influence helped the group reach new audiences throughout the club and dance music scenes. Gratuitous Sax and Senseless Violins continues to be recognized as one of Sparks’ best albums as it perfectly encapsulates their ability to be playful while retaining an emotional depth.
Lil’ Beethoven (2002)
No Sparks starter pack would be complete without at least one album from the 21st century. Lil’ Beethoven pulls in different pieces of the band’s past without sounding like any of their previous albums. With orchestral strings, Ron’s inventive keyboard arrangements, and layered vocals that sound like a choir of Russells, the album has a lushness and energy all its own. Repetition is used to great effect in songs like “The Rhythm Thief” and “My Baby’s Taking Me Home.” Once you hear this neo-classical art rock album for the first time, you will find yourself getting lost in the way each track builds and singing each song aloud for the foreseeable future.
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