Having surprised the glam-obsessed pop world in 1974 with their startlingly exhilirating and melodic blast of weirdness, "This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us", the Mael brothers took their band Sparks on a very strange journey. Pausing only to invent the synth-pop duo (then leaving it discarded for Soft Cell and the Pet Shop Boys to pick up a couple of years later), the band released several wonderful albums of guitar-heavy, witty and supremely melodic gems in the 1970s. Then they met Georgio Moroder and spend a couple of years going "dup-er-dup-er-dup-er-dup-er-dup..." like some crazy offspring of Donna Summer and Woody Allen.
The early 1980s saw the core brotherly duo dispense with the synth-dominated sound and gleaming production, to return to their roots. Recruiting wholesale the American band Bates Motel, they rediscovered guitars and, coincidentally, their songwriting inspiration.
This album sees them at the peak of this second (or third) coming, with songs so packed full of hooks that you could... er... hang a large number of things from them. The title track satirizes the therapy-obsessed culture of the U.S. west coast to marvellous effect. "I predict" sees Russell making a series of surreal predictions, none of which seem likely to happen, until even his last attempt, "...and this song will fade out, I predict..." is rudely thwarted by the band lurching to a sudden halt behind him. "Moustache" is a tongue-in-cheek paean to face furniture, set to a blinder of a melody.
Some of these songs need time to grow on you ("Instant Weight Loss" is particularly challenging in the strain it puts on one chord for three-quarters of a verse) but will repay the effort with smart wordplay, stonking tunes and the complete absence of the irritating scent of smart-alec-ery that made They Might Be Giants so genuinely annoying.
From their next album onwards Sparks would begin to pander to more contemporary (at the time) production and stylistic fads and thus, paradoxically, become more dated from a current-day perspective. On "Angst", however, the band are tight, the songs are top-quality and Sparks sound their best here since "This Town...".