Album Reviews

Tommy Sparks – Tommy Sparks

(Island) UK release date: 10 August 2009

You might not realise it, but you probably already know who Tommy Sparks is. Already in 2009 the Swede has been making an impression with contributions to The Prodigy‘s Invaders Must Die! and Filthy Dukes‘ Nonsense In The Dark.

But some of the real musos out there will know Sparks from his involvement in the short-lived Vatican DC project – a curious band clearly born out of his love for virtually every music genre, from dance music through to indie and grunge. A child of the ’80s, Tommy Sparks is another in an ever-increasing line of recent artists to pick up the technology that underpinned the music of his youth – allowing us a spot of nostalgic indulgence in the process.

Right from first few synth-led bars, this self-titled debut solo album feels oddly familiar. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve spotted this guy on an episode of TOTP2, armed with a guitar-keyboard, pencil microphone and struggling to cope with an asphyxia-inducing amount of dry ice.

But this album includes more than just a couple of obscure one-hit wonders. While it doesn’t quite compete with the consistency of MGMT‘s Oracular Spectacular, say – another album that cleverly borrows from the ’60s and ’70s as much as it does from ’80s new wave and synthpop – Tommy Sparks is able to mix it with the likes of Metronomy, New Young Pony Club and Heartbreak.

Bizarrely, our current ’80s retrospective has also seen us revisit a time known for its patchy albums as well as its stellar singles and, true to form, not everything quite works here. When it does hit the mark, Tommy Sparks’ sound is a joyous electronic mesh of homespun wizardry and big studio sheen. Like its most relative cousin, Empire Of The Sun‘s Walking On A Dream, Tommy Sparks provides the listener with some moments of undeniable perfection.

Leading single, She’s Got Me Dancing – showcasing possibly the best double-clap in music history – is one of those classic pop one-offs that manages to cut through a million and one music fan bases. Watch this space: this song will the background to all BBC festival coverage and Jay-Z will be twisting allegories about his wife’s butt around its simple guitar riffs and house beats before too long. The stomping quirk of I’m A Rope should provide the album with its next single.

But like any album that achieves momentary perfection, you’re sometimes left wondering if the whole thing is just the modern equivalent of a Bucks Fizz cheese factory. Thankfully, Tommy Sparks seems to possess a masterly understanding of three-chord pop and is somehow able to keep the well-trodden domain fresh-sounding, convincing and exciting. Nods to those ’80s glory days are commonplace.

If it isn’t Weekend’s Over and its lifted-from-Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) intro it’s the epic electro-rock clash of Brand New Love and These Things Happen, which both owe a lot to Psychedelic Furs and Talk Talk. Velo Arktis sounds as detached and past-caring as any of Human League‘s finest. Aside from its major influences, MGMT’s success has also been recognised. The album features similar, almost constant dual-layered vocals and a heavy dose of reverb effects to go with its reflective tales of love and childhood.

No matter how redolent this album may be, Sparks’ uplifting electronic invention is impressive. If the sensation of being transported back to an era that brought eye-wateringly bad clothing, shameful dancing and films like The Breakfast Club and Weird Science is appealing, this album will provide a familiar and appropriately distinct soundtrack.

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