Introducing The Sonic Vault; in which your tireless critic dives into the past for records which have in some way defined his music obsessions. The album up for discussion is Los Angeles-based duo Sparks' 1974 bizarro pop masterpiece, Kimono My House.
Kimono My House
Year of release: 1974
Sparks are one of the greatest bands you've probably never heard of. Formed in 1968 by brothers Ron and Russell Mael, the group eventually attracted a critical following and adoration from the likes of Paul McCartney and Morrissey, but have more or less been relegated to cult curios. Their music is an unhinged mixture of show tune excess, proto-punk, glam bombast, and bubblegum pop, and has all the earmarks of influential genius. Though they would eventually transform into a new wave/synth-pop group in the late 1970s while collaborating with Giorgio Moroder, the duo's first few records were singular in their cross-mutation of genres.
The band's third album, Kimono My House, is often cited as their crowning jewel, and for good reason. Opener "This Town Ain't Big Enough For Both of Us" is a declarative statement; beginning with melodic electric piano, Russell's insanely high-pitched falsetto, and ricocheting gunfire before descending into rolling drum fills, squealing guitars, and glittery art-punk dynamics. While the parallels to Queen are obvious, its important to note that Sparks actually formed before Freddie Mercury and company, and that Kimono My House is a much weirder beast than anything Queen would release in their time. A more accurate description might be T. Rex punching up Frank Zappa during an Andrew Lyod Webber concert, and that's a compliment.
"Kimono My House is an album which absolutely rewards multiple listens; overflowing with creative wordplay, delirious glam-dance rhythms, and Roxy Music-esque electronica..."
For all the intense musicianship on display, Kimono My House is a joyous romp; using lyrical puns, pop culture references, and sexual innuendos in order to capture a sense of lunacy. Rather than lean into concept album noodling, Sparks wrote concise pop songs which also managed to feel off-kilter and surreal. Among the more standard glam rockers like "Amateur Hour" and "Here in Heaven", there's the Latin-flavored experimentation of "Hasta Mañana, Monsieur" and the slinky Broadway-like tune "Talent Is an Asset", which is a song about Albert Eistein's genius told from the perspective of his parents.
Kimono My House is an album which absolutely rewards multiple listens; overflowing with creative wordplay, delirious glam-dance rhythms, and Roxy Music-esque electronica. Adrian Fisher's nimble guitar work and bassist Martin Gordon's bouncy grooves foreground Russell's highly theatrical vocals and Ron's inventive keyboard playing. Meanwhile, certain experimental forays; like the use of a mellotron and sped-up vocal tricks on dazzling album closer, "Equator", only add to the sense that Sparks were creating their own rules. Though the band would change their sound radically with each release (miraculously, they are still making music today), this crucial period perhaps best exemplifies their anarchic spirit--Russell the curly mop of hair striding along at full pomp, Ron scowling with his Hitler moustache and 1930s wardrobe--giving credence to the idea that Kimono My House deserves to be dug out of the sonic vault and reappraised.