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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Halfnelson (Sparks) - "Halfnelson" Vinyl, LP, Album, 1971 (Bearsville)

The first time I heard Sparks' music was in 1974, and the album "Kimono My House."  It was like someone shot me in the heart, and I survived the bullet wound.  One of the few albums that had such a strong effect/influence over me, that to this day, is hard to shake off.  Once I bought this album, I immediately tracked down the first two Sparks' albums.  Both (all) are excellent.  

"Halfnelson" is Sparks, but before they changed their name due to Albert Grossman's request to do so.   A good record company/manager type of decision.   Halfnelson (Sparks) from the very beginning showed an off-beat vision of pop.  The genius level of Ron Mael's songwriting was apparent from their first album.   "Wonder Girl" "Fletcher Honorama," and others show a sophistication that's a mixture of wit and the perfect melody.  Russell Mael's songs were a total winner as well.   Also when we think of Sparks, we mostly focus on Ron and Russell Mael, but in the early days, before they hit the U.K. (Kimono and afterward) they were a functioning five-man band. One can't ignore the importance of Earl and Jim Mankey, as well as the drummer Harvey Feinstein.  A perfect unit at the time who found the perfect producer Todd Rundgren.  As the producer, he kept the Sparks/Halfnelson eccentricity in place and allowed a sense of exploration within the band's arrangements and sound.  The album to me is very tight as if it was recorded in a room with no windows, and therefore perhaps they were stranded in the studio, with nothing to do, but to make this fantastic album.  

Listening to this album in 1974, (and recorded/released in 1971) it struck me as a work of originality, and it was like getting music from Mars from actual Martians.  I always felt Sparks were outside artists, in the sense that they didn't belong to any scene or music moment.   One can think of them as the Los Angeles band or glam (Kimono), but the truth is they went beyond those categories.  Love the band, is Los Angeles.  The Beach Boys are Los Angeles.  Sparks live in Los Angeles, but the music they made came from another world or culture.  European perhaps?   They could easily be a band from France, Germany or Sweden.  Ziggy Stardust came from Mars, but Sparks/Halfnelson actually do sound they came from another galaxy.  

It is now 2017, and they are still that band from 'somewhere' else and are releasing provocative and excellent music.   

On a side note, I did write a book "Sparks-Tastic" (Rarebird Books) about my experiences of seeing this band play 21 concerts in London, each show devoted to one of their albums.  It was a life-changing experience for me, and, hopefully, my book expressed that sentiment as well as the adventure.