Sparks – In Outer Space

Tradition seems to dictate that Sparks are allowed to be moderately successful in one country at a time. Having initially broken the charts in the UK in the early 1970s, they seem to have then moved their attentions to Scandinavia later that same decade, before returning to the UK for 1979’s disco-enhanced No. 1 in Heaven and then France for its follow-up Terminal Jive.

The 1980s saw Sparks return home and try to break the US, and despite being completely unheard of in most parts of the world, their twelfth album In Outer Space, released 35 years ago this week, actually includes their biggest US hit, Cool Places, as well has having been one of their biggest albums.

It opens with the lead single, Cool Places, a duet with Jane Wiedlin from the Go-Gos, a catchy if now badly dated track which peaked at number 49 in the US and still gets regular airplay. This leads into the adorably catchy Popularity, one in a long stream of beautifully daft Sparks songs which are intentionally about pretty much nothing. It’s a clear pastiche of pop music with lines about meeting “at a place that’s called / I forget what it’s called”. Clever stuff.

Prayin’ for a Party is a bit daft, but then second single All You Ever Think About is Sex is brilliant. It combines some of their best sounds from their disco and rock eras, and even comes in the form of a slightly extended 12″-inspired version on here. Side A closes with Please Baby Please, a forgettable but entirely nice electronic track.

There’s a strange and not entirely unpleasant crossover between eighties pop and rock going on here, and Rockin’ Girls is one of the most notable for this. It’s a good song, but it is a little bit odd sounding if you’re not used to it. The same is true for I Wish I Looked a Little Better, actually.

Jane Wiedlin turns up again for Lucky Me, Lucky You, another slightly daft pop song which isn’t about anything in particular. Then comes the brilliantly named A Fun Bunch of Guys from Outer Space. Honestly there’s little on Side B that would really make you prick up your ears if you hadn’t already been listening to Side A, but at least pretty much everything on here is fun.

Closing this album is the typically daft Dance Godammit, a slow dance track that concludes matters in a suitably silly way. In Outer Space may not be Sparks‘ finest hour, but it’s a typically fun and silly release, and is worth hearing just for that.

If you can, get the 2013 reissue with bonus tracks, still widely available.

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