Monday, May 24, 2004


...continuing from Friday. Hilly Michaels' Calling All Girls video was all over MTV back in the days when MTV's programmers didn't have a lot to choose from and were occasionally forced to show decent material. The album that the song is from, also called Calling All Girls, is a fun though lightweight mix of glam and power-pop played and produced by pros (it sounds like it should only be listened to on a car radio). While not on CD, the vinyl is cheap (you should be able to find a copy for under $5, probably well under $5) and it's a friendly-sounding record that makes for a nice change of pace from heavier listening.

Here's Teenage Days and here's Shake It And Dance which sounds to me like one part Abba and one part Generation X's Dancing With Myself. (Or maybe Dancing With Myself sounds like this. The release dates are close.) Since the people who put Calling All Girls together weren't new to the job, it's probably no surprise the tracks I've posted today are #2 and #3 on side one. The rest of the album is good, but often it feels like the production is propping up some of the material (for the most part succesfully).

I guess the rule was that you put the hits first, the decent stuff next, and you get one weird song for side two. Possibly the best track on the album is the last one: Something On Your Mind. If you don't know the band Sparks, this may sound like Queen to you. If you do know the work of the Mael brothers, the source should be obvious (actually Hilly was a drummer for Sparks at one point).

Bringing me to Sparks. They've been around for thirty-plus years and never quite caught on in the US, though a lot of local critics love them. They started out doing quirky glam-pop and later moved into quirky dance territory. In 2002 they changed pace with an album called Lil' Beethoven that I like a whole lot, though it did seem to annoy some of their fans. It's an interesting CD. For the most part there are no drums and the lyrics are frequently phrases repeated over and over again. The music is often quasi-classical, with a lot of orchestral stuff mixed with beatless dance music. At first it can seem a little boring, but once you make up your mind that they really do want the album to sound that way, the record's charms start to emerge.

Nonetheless, the tracks I'm going to post are atypical because mp3 blogs aren't the best place to introduce songs that may seem boring at first. Here's Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls, by far the most uptempo song, in which the narrator arrives at a shocking discovery about the way things work in this world. And here's the last track on the album, Suburban Homeboy. Lyrically it takes kind of easy shots at its easy target, but the fact that the words are set to Gilbert & Sullivan style music (and catchy Gilbert & Sullivan at that) pretty much pushes it over the top. Ugly Guys is slowly growning into one of my favorite semi-novelty songs of the last few years.

In general, Lil' Beethoven is a neat record that manages to be unique without being particularly difficult. The aspect that seems to annoy people the most is the repetition of catch-phrases (one song goes "How do I get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, man, practice," over and over. Another repeats the phrase "Your call is very important to us, please hold"). One nice way to think about this (I didn't come up w/this idea) is that the repeated phrases take the place of rhythm tracks. Personally I didn't feel the need to get so conceptual, but some people need a formal framework to enjoy things, so there you go.

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