Album review: SPARKS – Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins

SPARKS - Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins

BMG [Release date 01.11.19]

‘Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins’ originally came out in 1994 and came after a six year gap by Sparks since 1988’s ‘Interior Design’ album. The band were said to be on hiatus, something Ron Mael takes to task in the sleevenotes. They spent a number of years preparing for a movie project with Tim Burton that never came to fruition. Now that would have be some team up Tim Burton and Sparks!

It did moderately successfully in the album charts reaching 150 in the UK album charts and fairing much better in the German album charts where it peaked at number 29. The album had three singles released off it, of which ‘When Do I Get To Sing “My Way” was the most successful (including making the top ten of the US Billboard Hot Dance Club Play!).

This three CD 25th anniversary re-issue gives the album the full bells and whistle treatment with the original album on disc one, remixes and B-sides on disc two and the third disc adds demos and unreleased tracks, plus an EP from Christi Haydon, which the Mael brothers produced and Christi played drums for Sparks on the ‘Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins’ tour.

The original album highlights Sparks most disco phase and if you didn’t know better on songs like ‘Let’s Go Surfing’ you’d think it was the Pet Shop Boys. ‘When Do I Get To Sing “My Way” and ‘(When I Kiss You) I Hear Charlie Parker Playing’ are bona fide Sparks classics, whilst ‘Now That I Own The BBC’ is one of the classic humorous songs they do so well. Despite being American the Mael brothers have that classic sense of quirkiness and off the wall humour beloved of British artists.

The remixes and B-sides on disc two include ‘National Crime Awareness Week’, ‘Little Drummer Boy’ and a great liver version of ‘Beat The Clock’.

The third disc containing the demos and unreleased tracks is a real goldmine for fans. From the Adam Ant like beat on ‘The Farmer’s Daughter’ through to the poptastic beats on ‘Bob Hope’, it is great these songs finally get a release. There are also a couple of songs with Ron on vocals and his voice has a quieter tone, so not just a scary face behind a keyboard!

This third disc also includes the aforementioned EP by Christo Haydon who had the Marl brothers as producers. The EP included two covers the Bee Gees’ ‘Holiday’ and the Who’s ‘Boris The Spider’, however not overly taken by these songs. ‘Boris The Spider’ is the pick of the bunch due to the synths and dance beat with a nasty then nice vocal from Christo Haydon.

With sleeve notes from Ron and Russell Mael, plus Christo Haydon, this is a ‘must have’ for Sparks fans. ****

Review by Jason Ritchie

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