- Nine scintillating works of seduction and self-delusion by the diminutive master of the art of musical overkill.Lil' Beethoven. Entertainment in extremis.It's in the genes.
The 19th studio album by Sparks, Lil' Beethoven was released in 2002 through the band's own Lil' Beethoven imprint.
The album was widely seen as both a return to form and a radical change of direction for the Mael brothers, who after two decades of delivering witty yet mostly underwhelming Synth-Pop, had dropped the style in favour of a fresh sound dominated by piano, multi-tracked vocals in place of dance beats (hence the cries of "oh no, where did the groove go?" in the opening track), and - living up to the title's classical pretensions - layers upon layers of orchestration created using synthesizers.
The songwriting too was more experimental than prior Sparks whilst retaining their tongue-in-cheek nature, and has often been compared to Radiohead's Kid A for its heavy use of repetition and unorthodox arrangements. Many tracks on the album are satirical, with the Maels slyly addressing then-current trends in music as well as the state of modern-day culture in general, rendering the dramatic production style all the more ironic. However, whilst largely devoid of traditional rock instruments, it does contain guest appearances from drummer Tammy Glover and Faith No More touring guitarist Dean Menta, who joined the brothers on the road to play Lil' Beethoven in its entirety.
To promote the album, the duo devised a backstory for the press explaining the record's concept. It told the story of how the titular character - a Reclusive Artist and the present day descendant of composer Ludwig van Beethoven - had been approached by the brothers to work on new material with them, the nine songs bearing the fruits of this supposed collaboration.
Lil' Beethoven is often considered by many to be one of Sparks' best records, which some claiming it surpasses even Kimono My House in terms of quality. Though it wasn't a hit commercially, it was the album that finally gave them equal exposure in both Europe and the United States, reviving their critical reputation as a vital, inventive force in pop music.
- "The Rhythm Thief" - 5:19
- "How Do I Get to Carnegie Hall" - 3:51
- "What Are All These Bands So Angry About" - 3:33
- "I Married Myself" - 4:59
- "Ride 'Em Cowboy" - 4:21
- "My Baby's Taking Me Home" - 4:43
- "Your Call's Very Important to Us" - 4:12
- "Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls" - 7:08
- "Suburban Homeboy" - 2:59
I, am a suburban troper with some suburban tropes right by my side...:
- Anti-Love Song: "I Married Myself".I married myself, I'm very happy togetherThis time it's gonna last, this time it's gonna last, forever, forever, forever
- Audience Participation Song: Due to its reliance on repetition and choral arrangements, the album as a whole can be surprisingly anthemic.
"Oh no, where did the groove go? Where did the groove go?"
- "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" ("Practise, man, practise!")
- "The Rhythm Thief"
- "Home, my baby's taking me home..."
- The ending of "Suburban Homeboy", as additional voices come in to signal a singalong.
- Deconstruction: Of pop music, as well as Sparks' own career.
- Dramatic Timpani: Aside from a few tracks, the percussion on the album is mainly reduced to this.
- Epic Rocking: "Ugly Guys with Beautiful Girls" is one of their longest songs at over 7 minutes.
- For Inconvenience, Press "1": "Your Call Is Very Important To Us. Please Hold."
- Kavorka Man: The protagonist of "Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls" gets dumped by his girl for one due to his wealthy status.
- Genre-Busting: A neo-classical album that combines elements of opera, music hall, hip-hop, dance and hard rock.
- Hell Is That Noise: "UGLY GUYS WITH BEAUTIFUL GIRLS! WAK-WAK-WAK-WAK! WAK-WAK-WAK-WAK!""
- List Song: "Ride 'Em Cowboy", of various stock phrases and cliches placed against their opposites:I swam, I sank
Top seed, unranked
The pole, the wall
The pride, the fall
- Looped Lyrics: One of the defining elements of the album is lyrical repetition. Taken to the logical extreme in "My Baby's Taking Me Home" where, aside from a Spoken Word bridge, the lyrics are only the title repeated over 100 times.
- Mood Whiplash:
All of this I did for you
- "How Do I Get to Carnegie Hall?" starts off as a lighthearted tale about a concert pianist striving for perfection. Then we learn that, no matter how gifted he is and how much praise he receives from the audience, it all means nothing to him and that he was only doing it so he can impress a girl, who doesn't seem to return his affection.
Still there is no sign of you.
- Musically, the heavy rock sound of "Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls" is jarring after the previous tracks, especially the calm woodwind section which bookends it.
- Man of a Thousand Voices: All of the vocals - except the telephone operator voice on "Your Call Is Very Important To Us" which was provided by Tammy Glover - are done by Russell.
- Minimalistic Cover Art: A flat white background, the title text, and a small doodle of the titular character in the corner.
- New Sound Album: The band had operated in Electronic Music since 1979's No. 1 in Heaven, primarily Dance music and Synth-Pop. However, after 2000's Balls was met with indifference, they rebuilt their sound into Genre-Busting, repetitious, classically-inspired Chamber Pop.
- Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Parodied with "Suburban Homeboy".I say "yo dawg" to my pool-cleaning guy
- Questioning Title?: "How Do I Get to Carnegie Hall?" and "What Are All These Bands So Angry About?".
- Self-Backing Vocalist: Russell takes this trope to a whole other level on this album, piling several layers of his vocals on top of each other until he's practically his own choir.
- Sequel Song: "I Married Myself" is lyrically a follow-up to Kimono My House's "Falling In Love With Myself Again".
- Something Completely Different: The album has a predominantly classical, Chamber Pop feel. "Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls" is Heavy Metal.
- Spoken Word: Loads of examples here, but particularly "Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls", which is essentially a spoken monologue set to music.
- Title-Only Chorus: In the case of "My Baby's Taking Me Home", a title only TRACK (not counting the spoken word section in the middle of it).
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: The narrator of "Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls" questions how this happens before revealing that the answer is cold, hard cash.
- Updated Re-release: A 'Deluxe Edition' of the album - containing three bonus tracks, enhanced content, and packaged in a black sleeve instead of white - was issued in 2004 after the original pressing ran out.