George Starostin's Reviews



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Richard C. Dickison <> (17.02.2001)

Oh my lord, George, you found a Sparks album in Russia?!

Go on, you are in for a fun time.

These guy's were even more underground than The Residents.

They were also taken for granted and with absolutely no serious appreciation for their ground breaking talent.

They got ripped off more than a California Seven-Eleven store.

Wait till you hear Propoganda. They rocked and they hopped and they were just dancing to their own drummer. Spouting off enough good rythyms and beats to energize 16 top ten bands, which I'm probably not far from the truth.

Loved them and their cheesey mustaches too.

The only thing most people heard from them is that song they did with the Gogo's girl, how very very sad.

PS. Quick guys, Take a look at David Byrne. Take a look at any early Sparks album. Take a look at David Byrne. Take another look at any early Sparks album. Hmmm, can you say big old David (the high an mighty intellectual) did a full and complete rip-off? Obscurity sure hides these little facts.

Arne Löfgren <> (22.02.2001)

Hello George!

I read your reviews of Sparks, and I was delighted to see that you share my feelings about their music. I bought both Kimono My House and Propaganda back in the 70:ies, and I was absolutely thrilled. I had never heard such music before. I must have played Propaganda 15 times i a row the first time! Thank you for liking them! Hope you will review Big Beat also, after that they declined sadly. But these three albums shine!

<> (28.09.2003)

Well, I have to be balanced. I've been posting a bunch of comments on John's and Adrian's site, and it's been awhile since I've posted one here, so I can't show favoritism.

Sparks are a rather frustrating case, actually. Beatles-caliber melodies, incisive and whimsical lyrics, brilliant vocals... there really is no excuse for their dearth of mainstream success.

In fact, their predicament transcends a lack of popular recognition; they've been consigned to near anonymity, and with most of their albums either rare or out of print this is a difficult situation to rectify.

I've been trying to find their first two albums for years, and it's proved to be a futile endeavor. I can't even entertain the prospect of searching for Introducing Sparks, as it's never even been released in CD format. This is the fate of one of the absolute greatest pop groups of all time; even their rabid fans are condemned to disappointment and frustration.

However, one has to make the best of what one has; Kimono My House is a near perfect pop album, featuring a collection of some of the catchiest melodies ever recorded to tape while retaining the idiosyncratic Sparks sound. Utterly devoid of anything that could be construed as filler, pretty much any track from it could become stuck in your head for days if you let it. Songs like 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us', 'Here In Heaven Without You' and 'Equator' are truly amongst the best pop songs ever.

Propaganda is nearly as good; once more all the tracks are strong, they just rarely ascend to the same heights attained on their previous album. Indiscreet is a bit of a let down, but still quite good, and Big Beat is a triumphant return to form, if not quite on par with their classic output.

As for their recent work, I was naturally dubious about the notion of a new Sparks album, but my skepticism was diluted by my curiosity and I ended up buying Lil' Beethoven. The concept of a Sparks album that forsakes much of their inherent style is admittedly somewhat disconcerting, but as a perplexing novelty it's actually somewhat entertaining; at any rate, they still know how to deliver a good vocal hook here and there. As a one-time experiment it works; if they ever repeat it again, however, it will cease being amusing. Genre bending and rock-classical fusions are all well and good, but I don't think this album professed to be a major artistic statement; it was a cute gimmick, the point was made, and it's time to move on, even if 'moving on' merely constitutes a reversion to the classic style. It may not be progress, but it's what they do best.

Sparks are quite simply one of the best groups ever, one of the most purely fun to listen to and one of the most axiomatically gratifying. Why they're not firmly entrenched into the upper pantheon of rock eludes me, but perhaps the very fact of their commercial failure has infused a greater level of freedom and flexibility into their work. A successful group would rarely take a risk like Lil' Beethoven, an album with only a modicum of capacity for commercial viability. Perhaps with their anonymity Sparks are free to do whatever they want. If that's the case then it's alright by me.

Wait, this comment wasn't short, was it? Oh well, hopefully this page will be converted soon anyway. With regards to that, it seems that their debut is destined to get the coveted high grade for the page, and having not heard it I can't comment on that, but I feel that even if Kimono is vastly inferior to it, which I doubt, it still deserves the high grade as well. There're simply far too few pop albums on that level, and as a nearly flawless album it truly deserves the maximum rating for the artist.

jason hernandez <> (12.12.2003)

You can't go wrong with Sparks, as far as I'm concerned. The songs are almost everything a pop fiend could ask for and the Maels' sense of humor is rare and refreshing. Their silliest songs nearly always seem so much more wise and adult to me than a lot of music (today or anytime) that passes for mature. And it's nice to see you give attention to their disco and New Wave eras (those are my favorites!).

To respond to the above comments on Li'l Beethoevn, I don't think that album is a departure from their "inherent style". Cuz what is the Sparks style? They've done glam-rock, New Wave, power pop, the weird early stuff, etc. Their most frequent style seems to be dance music (and their 90s' techno records are great). What Li'l Beethoven does is give us songs built like dance music (lots of repetitive vocals), BUT without beats. Instead we get a lush, detailed classical music sound. It's dance music that you can't dance to (but not IDM -- keep that away from me!) I think it's a very witty record that only Sparks could have made. I wouldn't trust any musician to stay great for 30+ years, but Sparks have done it. They're an inspiration.

Rodney Loh <> (27.02.2004)

I'm 43 years old and grew up in the US. I would watch Dick Clark's American Bandstand as a kid and I remember seeing Sparks on the show. I think I saw them twice. Maybe one was a rerun, hell that was around thirty years ago!

Anyway, I do remember Dick enthusiastically introducing them. I remember seeing them and thinking that they sure looked weird. That one guy with the Charlie Chaplin mustache just standing there and doing his thing. Sparks did not look like anything at all that was *normal* if you were the typical middle class suburban living American. Normal was Led Zep and the Who, stones, Lynrd, Elton John, etc.

But they were so interesting looking on the show that when in record shops I'd always go over to the S section and look at their albums. Unfortunately, I never got up the nerve to buy any of their albums. I knew no one who knew Sparks or had any of their albums.

Just thought you'd like to know that Dick Clark gave then exposure, but it didn't help Sparks much in the American market. By the early 70s American Bandstand was not the show it once was.

Mark Biondi <> (26.01.2006)

Just wanted to post a message for your loyal readers (like myself) who have been searching in vain for the first two Sparks albums. A small record label in New York has just re-issued both albums on CD. The label, Wounded Bird Records, is apparently dedicated to releasing previously out of print albums. The prices are reasonable, $10.99 per CD plus shipping, and the sound quality is excellent. Here is the website:


Steve Adey <> (16.07.2001)

I find it odd that you should describe Sparks' first album as having cozy little synthesizer patterns, since synthesizers didn't really exist in 1971. I'm not even sure if the Poly Moog had been invented by then. Even when they recorded Number One in Heaven in 1979, there was no such thing as a drum machine. That's real drums on there!

[Special author note: I didn't say 'drum machines', did I? And yes, now that I think of it, you're right - they're playing organs on there, but they sound so damn like the jerky synths of the Cars I fell for it. By the way, the Moog had definitely been invented by 1971 - the Monkees played it as early as 1967.]

Arne Löfgren <> (11.05.2002)

Not having listened to Sparks and Woofer for about 25 years or so, I decided to give them a chance again. I have them both on LP. And they are actually quite good, even though Woofer is somewhat weaker. They are now both available on one CD, well wort the price I would say.

Matt <> (21.07.2002)

"Fletcher Honorama": Without doubt one of the most beautifully haunting songs ever. But, has anyone figured out what it's about? I've always been able to decipher Rons lyrics, sometimes it takes a while, but this one has me totally baffled!!

Great site!

John McFerrin <> (01.08.2003)

Nobody's yet mentioned what it's about, so I figured I'd fill y'all in. According to the liner notes, from Ron, "To answer those of you who think it's only a bunch of of gibberish, let me say that besides the gibberish angle, we have here a tune about a celebration being thrown for an old man named Fletcher just before his death. His friends didn't want to wait until he died to get together."

Damn, what a great song, album, band.


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Richard C. Dickison <> (25.02.2001)


You had not heard Sparks????

Muchable Crunchable Sparks.


I have to tell you I love this album, I hate this album, I love this album, I hate this album.

It's perfect and yet, you know, I liked Propaganda better.

"Hello sailor boy...Shes spewing out that Propaganda, Propaganda..."

Just because they are good, and I like a break from perfect.

There's got to be one song that wakes you up, just one, and says hey were human.

And that song is not on this album, anywhere.

Otherwise I would say this was not a band but the front for some frustrated song writers group, or maybe a computer program that is just turning out hit after hit, soulously hooking us into nirvana, and showing no mercy.

Hey, I for one am pissed these guy's never started any riots in like one of those big cities in South America when they toured the country.

Like Michael Jackson deserves to be the only one??? There is no justice in the world, none.

Alexey Provolotsky <> (16.09.2005)

In order to appreciate this album (and any other by the band, actually) you should forget all about your serious progressive bands or whatever and realize one important thing: these guys don’t want you to think about serious problems (except for some rare cases) and enjoy their music with a rapt attention on your face. No. THESE guys want you to HAVE FUN. And do they succeed! It’s not even necessary to dance to their music, just listen to those unforgettable melodies, amusing lyrics, vocal hooks. And you’ll have your portion of fun.

Kimono My House has to be their greatest achievement (I haven’t heard the debut, though). It’s flawless. How did Ron write all these melodies, I wonder? They are brilliant. Original, catchy, complex. I remember I had to listen to this album about five or six times to realize all those vocal tricks (Russell’s falsetto is truly a fantastic thing), melodic twists, to say nothing of the lyrics. Really, the last minute of “Equator” can seem absolutely irritating, but considering the lyrical matter of the song, it’s more than funny (me, I couldn’t stop laughing when I heard it for the first time). There is no need to name every song; they are some of the catchiest creations of the entire decade! My personal favourite is probably “Here In Heaven”, but I won’t give you any comprehensive reason why. The only slight misstep is probably “Complaints” (which would be a highlight on any Queen record; ha-ha!). It’s not that breathtaking, I guess. But maybe it’s just can’t be anything but a minor letdown after those six perfect ones. The two bonus cuts are on par with the actual album. “Lost And Found” has a knocking vocal hook and the intro to “Barbecutie” is one of the most striking intros out there. Period.

Find this album, it’s no good walking around and saying, “No, I don’t have Kimono My House”. It’s simply no good. I’d give the record a solid 14 overall.


Alexey Provolotsky <> (16.09.2005)

Obviously the guys (mostly Ron, of course) were on a roll. This here is just another bunch of amazing melodies by Sparks. Propaganda is immaculate, that’s for sure, but still slightly weaker than the predecessor. There are a couple of problems here; they come at the end of the record. I’m talking about the two closing tracks. Either because they come after the album’s highest point, the breathtaking “Achoo”, or because they are simply not very strong, but they don’t manage to grab me like the other stuff. I wouldn’t call them filler, but somehow “Who Don’t Like Kids” seems very simplistic to me (still mighty catchy) and “Bon Voyage”, while being a very charming song, suffers from its length. But why should I say bad things about this album? Why not say that “Thanks But Not Thanks” and “Don’t Leave Me Alone With Her” have astonishing hook lines? Why not say that “B.C.” is a piece of unstoppable and insanely catchy fun? Why not say that the ballad (yeah, it’s a pity they rarely made such slow emotional tracks) “Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth” is so sad and gorgeous? And “Achoo”, of course. The bonus tracks are also great. “Alabamy Right” is quite amusing and “Marry Me” is very memorable with a great powerful refrain. And I haven’t said a word about singing? It’s fantastic, as usual!

Two records of such high quality in one miserable 1974? Yeah, obviously the guys were on a roll. The rating would be about a 13 and a 14. Something in between.


Steve Adey <> (16.07.2001)

Not all the songs on Indiscreet were written by Ron; Russell wrote 'Pineapple'.

<> (14.10.2002)

I disagree about Indiscreet. I think it might be even better than the previous two albums, as it is certainly more diverse and experimental, but also contains more unique melodies and vocalizations. I agree that on first listen, something seems a bit off regarding a few of the earlier songs, but subsequent listens revealed to me their charms... 'Happy Hunting Ground', for example, seemed sorely lacking in interesting vocal melody the first time I heard it, but then I found myself repeating in my head the syncopated way the title words are sung, and realized how catchy the song is rhythmically. It's a lot harder to like Indiscreet than the last two, but as is so often the case, it ultimately proved much more rewarding a listen to me and the one of the so-called 'classic' Sparks trio (KIMONO, PROPOGANDA being the other two) that I listen to the most.


Oliver Kneale <> (17.06.2001)

Yes, I agree! This is one of the greats. I know of a lot of people who overlook this one so I'm glad you give it such high marks.

Sonically, it's not quite as jarring much of their more celebrated stuff, but they still walk those pop songs home with great style. On a side note, Joey Ramone was interested in having The Ramones cover "Nothing to Do" for awhile but never got around to it, which is too bad.

Martin Truksa <> (17.06.2005)

Big Beat is a unique Sparks album and for this reason it should be treasured. It is the only serious, straight ‘rock’ album that Ron and Russell have recorded, and it gives an insight into how Sparks would have sounded had they gone down the ‘traditional rock band’ route. Notice how Sparks albums from the 1980’s sound generic and interchangeable whereas the albums from the 1970’s are individually distinguishable. You can check out my Sparks reviews at

Alexey Provolotsky <> (16.09.2005)

A funny thing. This was my first album by Sparks and when I bought the record I thought the cover was somewhat inadequate and even tasteless. And after getting several other albums by the band I understood: it just can be their most adequate album cover ever (but, to tell the truth, all of their album covers blow). Anyway, I’m not here to review the cover. Music is the most important thing on a Sparks record. And the music here is truly fascinating. Sure, there are evident problems in production (the short supplies of guitar hurt a bit). But the melodies are first-rate, as usual. My absolute favourites include the groovy “I Bought The Mississippi River” (that very possibly features the all-time best moment in Sparks’ catalogue; possibly), the singalongish anthemic “Everybody’s Stupid” and “Screwed Up” with its gorgeous and even slightly romantic middle eight and equally great verses. The rest are all extremely melodic and hook-filled, though. The only song I would call “filler” is probably “White Women”, but even that song is not without its charm. The bonus cuts include the not very interesting, but still quite amusing nostalgic “Tearing The Place Apart” and the friggin’ catchy “Gone With The Wind” with hilarious lyrics and a good message.

A solid twelve this time.


Stuart Jones <> (11.01.2004)

Introducing Sparks is hugely underrated...I agree with you - it's a great album! WHY has this not been issued on CD?

My favourites are 'Forever Young', 'Girls On The Brain' and above all, 'Over The Summer'.


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Daniel Siwek <> (20.06.2004)

Hi...I know everything is subjective but I hardly think Giorgio "exploited" the band...more like the other way around...Giorgio was the one on top with Donna Summer and making hit soundtracks...I also don't think you realize exactly how "GIORGIO" the pop songs are on this album...Though #1 in Heaven was more of an ode to "I Feel Love" era Giorgio...Sparks was now incorporating the electronic pop genius of the producer...and those electro-pop-rock songs was exactly the commercial direction Giorgio was leading EVERYONE...if you listen to Blondie's 'Call Me' or Giorgio's E=MC2, you will see that Terminal isn't much of a departure...and no less "Giorgio" sounding...."Call Me," is so similar to "When I'm With You" it's not even funny (melody and synth lines) As a DJ I can mix them together...ALSO, I think many Sparks fans underestimate the significance of Sparks contribution to "electronic" music...and the Instrumental reprise...(many years before Air or Daft Punk" is another blueprint of how blissful electronic music can stand on its own....

I also think Terminal is SUCH a Giorgio record simply because of the drumming of Keith Forsey, who's on all the giorgio and donna records, as well as Boney M (whom "Greatest Show On Earth" really resembles) Keith is the glue of the Giorgio way....


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Daniel Siwek <> (20.06.2004)

YES, the Marc Bolan comparisons are RIGHT ON! Not that many people get that!

Alexey Provolotsky <> (16.09.2005)

They are going down. They are starting to sound modern and less exciting. It’s sad. Still, Angst In My Pants (personally, I would never name my record that way) isn’t hopeless and has at least five songs that I’m very fond of. I’m talking about the fast hilarious “Sextown U.S.A.”, the wonderful slow ballad “Sherlock Holmes”, the heavy “Nicotina”. Then the closing pair is impressive, the simplistic-and-lifeless-but-I-still-like-it “The Decline And Fall Of Me” and “Eaten By The Monster Of Love”, which may easily be called the catchiest song ever written. The others are mostly average (although some of them have their good moments).

A good, but very uninspired album. Something about a 10, I guess.


Alexey Provolotsky <> (16.09.2005)

A surprisingly solid record. The sound is more modern than on AIMP, but the quality of melodies and vocal hooks on the records is incomparable. The first track, “Cool Places” (their biggest hit in the States!..) will tell you about the big changes in Sparks. It’s a fine track, but is, in fact, worse than about a good half of this album. Worse than the gorgeous “Popularity” (a delicious track), worse than the poppy “All You Ever Think About Is Sex” (you know, if anybody told me a couple of years ago that my heart would fill with joy every time I would hear that song, I would have hated the damn person), worse than “Please, Baby, Please” with its amazing hook line. But the best track of the album has to be the absolutely fantastic “Rockin’ Girls”. Everything about the song seems to be perfect. It’s just filled with absolutely breathtaking moments: those killing “Come on, baby” lines, “And you’re the only girl” lines, the brilliant chorus… But there are some other amazing songs here, like the lovely “Lucky Me, Lucky You”, “I Wish I Looked A Little Better” with its great keyboard lines and, of course, the dumb “Dance Goddammit”. I don’t know what’s with that song, but it’s so charming. Goddammit!

The guys were once good in the eighties, you need to hear that for yourself. But George is right: don’t even think of getting this album before their classic seventies output. However good In Outer Space is. A high 11 approaching a low 12 at several places.


Alexey Provolotsky <> (16.09.2005)

You’ve probably never seen me, but believe me, I don’t look like a person who would buy an album knowing it sucks. No, I don’t look like that! It’s just that the new reissue coupled Sparks’ phenomenal Pulling Rabbits Out Of A Hat with some miserable hogwash called Propaganda.

Now some seriousness. Frankly, I couldn’t expect this to be SO bad. See for yourself: a good track, three disgusting ones, a good track, three disgusting ones, a good track and the rest are disgusting again. See? They even have that evil formula! Bleh… But what is good? The fine title track (it’s not even great, it’s just stands out here), the nice ballad called “With All My Might” and the somewhat charming “Sisters” (“with a hand in hand in hand”). The rest is simply garbage.

While listening (I don’t do that anymore, of course) to this album I always asked myself: “Did the guys really record Kimono My House?”

Two or three months ago I heard Lil’ Beethoven and now I know the answer to that question: Yes, they did.

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