I can’t say I was very familiar with the musical anomaly known as Sparks before my viewing of Edgar Wright’s infectious documentary and I’ll be damned if this experience didn’t convert me into their cult of disciples. I can only imagine the unique encounters that brought their diverse legion of fans here to discuss their lasting influence. These fans range from comedians like Patton Oswalt and Fred Armisen to musicians like Weird Al and Flea to fantasy authors like Neil Gaiman.
Much like Alex Winter’s Zappa documentary from last year, this tells the story of an uncompromising artist, in this case, two, who push the boundaries as often as they defy their loyal followers’ expectations. The two visionaries in question are Ron Mael, the eccentric genius tickling the electric keyboard with his Chaplin mustache, and his frontman brother Russell with the vocal pipes of an anarchic angel with musical mood swings. Their theatrical presentation and quirky sense of humor was their biggest creative asset and their detriment when it came to their critics that couldn’t lump them into the mainstream mold. They had their brief flourishes with MTV, but none of that was calculated, they just knew how to write compelling pop songs. The irony is that even their hits weren’t conventional in any way.
Their consistency in evolving their sound in unexpected generations have led them to gain admiration from the British rock icons they looked up to, they went as far as ditching their American bandmates to pursue their European fantasies, as well as influencing a wide spectrum of talented artists that include The Pet Shop Boys, Beck, Bjork, and the list goes on. One of the most relatable things I found with this band that I’m sure played a big part in hooking Edgar Wright as well is their passion for cinema that plays a big role in their creative process. A recurring theme in their story is how their early love of film inspired most of their creative choices and they’ve still to this day chasing their vision of bringing their ultimate creation to the silver screen. Along their journey, we see how they became a late addition to a seventies disaster movie that didn’t fare well at the box office, to their soundtrack contribution to eighties cult fave Rad and their false start collaboration with Tim Burton and despite the tribulations, they’ve encountered, they are in no way deterred from realizing their ambitions.
If I have just one piece of advice for viewers unfamiliar with the music of Sparks, keep it that way until you see this film. Go in cold and you just might be as floored as I was with this incredible band that will occupy many playlists to come. Thank you Mr. Wright for giving me a new musical obsession and thank you to the Sparks brothers for bringing something joyous and special into this world.