Sparks can be a bit of an unknown quantity sometimes. In 2008, they decided to celebrate their fortieth anniversary as a band with Exotic Creatures of the Deep. But Hello Young Lovers, released two years earlier, had been a bit of disappointment after 2002’s exceptional Lil’ Beethoven, so this could really have gone in any direction. Fortunately, Intro is full of a glorious repeated vocal, cello, and even some piano, and it opens this album in brilliant fashion.
The first proper track is the fantastic lead single Good Morning. Quite how, four or five decades into their career, Sparks are able to pull together influences from around them and create pop songs as great as this, is a bit of a mystery to me. On this one, they tap Scissor Sisters and show them how to do it properly, with such great lines as “Does dasvidaniya really mean good morning?”
Sparks have always had their daft side, and the bizarre swing of Strange Animal definitely fits in this category. It’s also rather good, though. Then there’s the exceptional and hilarious I Can’t Believe That You Would Fall for All the Crap in This Song, with its huge glam bass line. Then Let the Monkey Drive encapsulates more of the atmosphere of Pacific Coast Highway road trips than you might expect – it’s tempting sometimes to wonder whether monkeys are behind the wheel as drive that route.
After a brief reprise of the intro, we then get I’ve Never Been High, without any obvious lapse in quality. It does step up somewhat with the brilliant She Got Me Pregnant, though, a bizarrely sympathetic song full of strings and fun vocals. Then Lighten Up Morrissey is every bit as good as you might expect, a sweet song about someone who is feeling all the strains of being in a relationship with a Morrissey fan.
There’s no shortage of brilliance on here – This is the Renaissance is exquisite as well. The less superlative moments, such as The Director Never Yelled Cut, are far from bad, so this really is a great all-round album. This track, by the way, turns out to be where the Intro and Intro Reprise were extracted from.
What there is not, perhaps, is much new on here – Photoshop could have easily fitted on Lil’ Beethoven, six years earlier. The lack of beats, the piano, the string swells – it really would have been a perfect fit. It’s also a great song though, so it’s a struggle to see that as a problem.
The identity crisis that is this album comes to a close with the wonderful Likeable, in which someone tells us how much everybody else likes them, which of course smells very slightly of insecurity. The waltz middle section is adorable.
All in all, Exotic Creatures of the Deep is easily one of Sparks‘ finest moments, which is particularly impressive given that they were already forty years into their career at this point. Now, ten years on, some of the relevance of the glam and Scissor Sisters references may be less relevant, but it’s still an exceptional release.
You can still find Exotic Creatures of the Deep at all major retailers.