Although Kimono My House was the third album by Sparks, released in 1974, it was the album that propelled them into the limelight and got people paying attention to the Mael brothers’ unique concoction of arty glam rock with lyrics full of humour and satire. This was helped hugely by the success of the opening track, This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us – a stomping rocker making the most of Russell Mael’s astonishing falsetto vocals, which probably means Sparks are universally despised by all karaoke bar owners.
After This Town… comes two more supremely catchy glam rock tracks – Amateur Hour and Falling in Love With Myself Again – with the latter’s theme giving an excellent insight into Sparks’ whimsical and surreal humour. Next comes Here In Heaven, packed full of melodrama and angst-ridden guitars and keyboards. It’s hard to say if they are done seriously or for ironic humour, but not knowing is half the fun in this case. Yet another high point follows this – the brilliant Thank God It’s Not Christmas. Built around a descending guitar scale and some more stomping chords in the bridge, it proves that the brothers can do genuinely dark humour just as well as light-hearted stuff.
It’s at this point that you may be realising that I’m suggesting that every track is a highlight and, frankly, that’s because each one is. Hasta Mañana, Monsieur flirts with Latin-American music just as much as the song’s protagonist flirts hopelessly with his tour guide, and Talent is an Asset is a cheerful and catchy ode to Albert Einstein told from the perspective of his parents. Amazingly though, the album’s peak has not occurred just yet. That title is reserved for the spectacular final song, Equator, which is surprising because this one is a bit of a curveball. It just oozes urgency and tension and the more cryptic (but still brilliant) lyrics come as quite a shock. The song rumbles and rolls along for a few minutes before seemingly collapsing into itself, with instruments being picked off like coconuts at the fairground. Eventually we’re just left with Russell Mael’s longing wails and calls of ‘Equator!’ and ‘you said you’d meet me there’ – perhaps a mockery of lover giving him a rather vague meeting place, although the song has an undercurrent of guilt and regret too, perfect for ensuring the album is never too whimsical for its own good.
The two bonus tracks – Barbecutie and Lost and Found – are more guitar led but still end the album very much on a high, especially the latter’s stadium sized guitars and bitingly satirical critique of human morality. ‘Lost and found / a wallet from a man, careless man / too bad’ sings Mael, before detailing all the adventures the protagonist embarks on, assuring the listeners ‘and none of us will feel bad at all’. These cuts are easily good enough to have made it onto the initial release.
This album is extremely important for many reasons, if not just because it proved to the masses that you can play rock music AND sound like you’re having fun at the same time. Maybe the album’s most famous fans, Morrissey and Kurt Cobain, should have taken better notes…