By 1988, Sparks were already nearly two decades into their career, and although their success had waned somewhat, they were still going strong. For their fifteenth album Interior Design, they were embracing the late 1980s sound just as they had embraced so many different genres previously.
The album opens with So Important, the opening single, and probably the catchiest track on here. What’s notable, though, is the lack of comedy from earlier releases. Neither this nor preceding album Music That You Can Dance To (1986) made the charts anywhere in the world, although both yielded some minor US dance hit singles.
Just Got Back from Heaven has a wry humour to it, and a lot of influence from Madonna‘s 1980s sound. By this period they were well in the swing (ha) of producing their own material, and they were both confident and competent, but just not quite tapping into the sound of the charts in time to make it themselves.
There’s a lot owing to their influences, though – Lots of Reasons sounds suspiciously like Devo, although honestly it’s better than most of the flowerpot-hatted group ever achieved.
Most of the tracks on here are good, but not great. You Got a Hold of My Heart and Love-O-Rama are entirely competent, the latter showing off some great late 1980s drumming, but none of these were ever going to change the world.
Side B introduces us to The Toughest Girl in Town, which wakes you up a bit with its enormous bass line, and Let’s Make Love is catchy, but still not particularly great. It would be easy to conclude that relatively little effort went into this album unfortunately. Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before just sounds like every other generic 1980s track at this point.
A Walk Down Memory Lane is next, a pleasant track which may have seen a little more effort, but still isn’t especially memorable. This is a short album, but by this stage it’s really starting to drag, unfortunately.
But then comes Madonna, the closing track on here, and one that shares literally nothing in common with the rest of the album. It’s catchier and more confident, and sees Sparks in one of their occasional flights of fantasy, dreaming of meeting Madonna and spending an evening with her. It’s an interesting closer, in that it almost shares more with the 1994 follow-up Gratuitous Sax and Senseless Violins than this album.
In fact, some of the most interesting material on here is hidden on the CD’s bonus tracks – although that does involve working your way through a lot of alternative versions of Madonna, you do eventually make your way to the lovely The Big Brass Ring, the instrumental that appeared as a b-side to So Important. And right at the end, the extended mix of So Important is worth hearing too.
This was the album before Sparks‘ first extended hiatus, as they returned to their near-native Hollywood to try to make a film, a musical version of a manga comic. It is tempting to wonder whether they saw themselves drifting into less exciting areas at this point, or whether they just wanted to do something different. But on balance, Interior Design isn’t bad; it’s just not all great either – but it’s worth hearing as an interesting chapter in Sparks‘ history, and it does have its moments.
There is supposedly a 2008 CD reissue of Interior Design, but I’ve never seen a copy – your best bet is to just dive in with the digital release, available here.