A live show from Sparks is always going to be a treat – if nothing else they have a 45 year career to draw on, with – by their calculation – 22 albums’ worth of material. They’re also quite brilliant performers with a quite unique style.
So the release last year of Two Hands One Mouth (Live in Europe) was something of a treat, as we’ll see. Recorded in various cities across Europe in October 2012, it really is a rather glorious career retrospective and live show, rolled into one.
The performance begins with Sparks Overture, a somewhat manic medley of a number of Sparks‘ greatest hits from the last few decades. This then drifts into a very odd choice, Hospitality on Parade, the opening track from their 1975 album Indiscreet. As with much of their early output, it’s a gloriously theatrical song, but I can’t help thinking it’s a rather odd choice to open a live show.
Next is Metaphor, one of the best tracks from 2006’s Hello Young Lovers. As is so often the case with Sparks songs it’s an unlikely hit, but it’s also quite brilliant. Finally, after this they take a very brief break before launching into a brief acapella version of Propaganda, from the 1974 album of the same name, which leads into At Home, At Work, At Play from the same album.
The rather odd Sherlock Holmes comes next, taken from 1982’s Angst in My Pants album. This is, to say the least, an odd selection of tracks, and the general lack of singles up to this point could become a little wearing. Fortunately, next up is the exceptional Scissor Sisters-inspired Good Morning, delivered largely in a falsetto to great effect.
The theme of this tour was – like the title – two hands, one mouth, so the entirety is performed by Ron Mael on an electronic piano, and Russell Mael on vocals, and nobody else. Which is actually quite impressive when you think about it – to carry an entire show with just that must have been a pretty tough job. Without the visuals it’s difficult to know how well it worked, but on audio, it still makes for a great performance.
Some string backing turns up from somewhere for Under the Table with Her, again from Indiscreet, followed by the brilliant My Baby’s Taking Me Home from the more recent Lil’ Beethoven.
I wasn’t familiar with Singing in the Shower, but it seems to have been a 1988 collaboration with Les Rita Mitsouko, which might explain why. Quite how they picked it for inclusion here is unclear to me, but it actually fits incredibly well as part of the show, before the utterly bizarre The Wedding of Jacqueline Kennedy to Russell Mael. Sparks have long incorporated weird dramatic pieces into their shows, but this one takes the biscuit…
Also no doubt mystifying to some is the six minute or so series of excerpts from the most recent album The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, but as a brief summary of a brilliant album, I’m going to say it fits rather well in here.
After this, the second half of the show concentrates in earnest on delivering the hits – Dick Around from Hello Young Lovers followed by the legendary Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth and of course This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us. These are, for the most part, songs which work particularly well in the two hands, one mouth format without needing hordes of backing singers or additional instrumentation. Needless to say, they sound incredible.
In particular, the tracks from Lil’ Beethoven work well, so the pairing of the brilliant The Rhythm Thief and Suburban Homeboy is both welcome and brilliant. When Do I Get to Sing “My Way”, The Number One Song in Heaven and Beat the Clock are, by necessity, more creative interpretations, but they work well too.
Finally, the show closes with a completely new track, Two Hands One Mouth, which has some typically bizarre lyrics about clowns and Anna Karenina. It’s a typically great track though, and actually closes the show rather well. And, like the whole album, serves as a worthwhile reminder that a Sparks show is a very special thing indeed.
You might have to look for actual olde-fashioned physical formats if you want Two Hands One Mouth, but it’s still widely available from stores such as Amazon.