The Sparks Brothers
How can one rock band be successful, underrated, hugely influential, and criminally overlooked all at the same time? Edgar Wright’s debut documentary The Sparks Brothers, which features commentary from celebrity fans Flea, Beck, Jack Antonoff, Jason Schwartzman, Neil Gaiman, and more, takes audiences on a musical odyssey through five weird and wonderful decades with brothers/bandmates Ron and Russell Mael, celebrating the inspiring legacy of Sparks: your favourite band’s favourite band.
So who are Sparks? They’re brothers Ron and Russell Mael, now both in their 70s, who grew up in California—Jewish, athletic, popular—and formed a rock band. The California part is crucial to note because people constantly assume they’re British. Indeed, there is something undeniably British about the aesthetic and vibe of Sparks. It’s hard to explain exactly why—but they fit in that sweet spot of Brits who grew up with a healthy diet of Monty Python and the Beatles: goofy, comfortable with surrealism, casually iconoclastic, and forever chasing a good melody.
On stage, the persona of the band took root right away. Older brother Ron, the keyboardist and primary songwriter, promptly grew a tiny brush mustache that, depending on how charitable you were feeling, either evoked Charlie Chaplin or Hitler. Impossibly small and wiry, he would stand behind the keyboard in a tight tank top, staring with a slightly menacing deadpan at the audience. Russell, the younger brother, was more of a traditional front man—handsome and charismatic, with great pipes. But because the Mael boys are brothers, they clearly shared a similar eccentricity, even if Ron’s was more pronounced. They found a cult following—by definition small and passionate—especially in Europe. And they were extremely good, writing songs that were filled with clever wordplay and expressions of existential and romantic dread (reminder: Ron wrote the lyrics) that were very catchy and often ahead of their time. You may remember This Town’s Too Big for Both of Us on Top of the Pops.
Edgar Wright is clearly a massive fan and digs pretty deep into the Sparks catalogue, history, and career ups and down. His films ( Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Baby Driver) tend to be fast-paced and almost compulsively entertaining and this one is no exception.
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