Sparks! (And Franz Ferdinand)

For a spell it seemed like ’80s new wave, marked by witty lyrics about teenage lust and bold, synth-driven arrangements (two Sparks hallmarks), routinely producing major hits, would be the perfect place for Sparks. They stood out on the soundtrack to the 1983 hit film “Valley Girl” with “Eaten By the Monster of Love” and the title track to their 11th album, “Angst in My Pants.” MTV played the hell out of Sparks’ duet with the Go-Go’s Jane Wiedlin, “Cool Places,” but mainstream success in America continued to elude them. Ultimately, however, the Maels had to be content with a devoted and disciplined base (the young Kapranos among them). There was something a little too smart about Sparks to be genuine pop stars; they could only ever be “pop stars” in quotes — they saw the falseness of the game a little too reflexively to really play it. Happily, Sparks spent much of their career as major label artists, alongside major commercial forces, as there was always a contingent in-house who were fans and knew that they were a prestige act that made the label, as a whole, look classier and smarter. “There were people who said early on, ‘It’s not selling that much but there’s something kind of cool about these guys; let’s support them,’” says Ron. And so Sparks were able to continue to create remarkable work like the single “When Do I Get to Sing My Way?”  and their 2002 masterpiece “Lil’ Beethoven.”