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Sparks The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

The story of a maverick creative force – remind you of anyone?

Louis Pattison 2009

When John Peel described The Fall as “always the same, always different”, he could equally have been talking about Sparks.

Founded in 1970, the career partnership of siblings Ron and Russell Mael has taken in forays into glam, classical music and techno, collaborations with musicians as diverse as Giorgio Moroder and Faith No More and a run of gigs in 2008 that saw the brothers play all 21 of their albums in chronological order, while remaining immediately familiar, inimitable, unique… Sparks.

So while The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman, a piece of musical theatre commissioned by Sweden’s national radio service Sveriges Radio, certainly sounds like it should be a pretty off-the-wall idea, given Sparks’ unusual recent career arc, it makes a peculiar kind of sense.

Steeped in the same arch humour and orchestral sweep that guided the likes of 2006’s Hello Young Lovers and last year’s Exotic Creatures of The Deep, The Seduction… blends jaunty songs and rib-tickling tangents with a coherent narrative – a fictionalised, fantastical tale of the famous Swedish film director as he is wooed by, and flees from, the sinister forces of the Hollywood film industry.

Spoken narrative blends into song and back again, meaning if you want a fresh suite of crisp new Sparks songs, you may be left wanting; there are no tunes without the tale attached. Luckily, the tale is a good one. On Hollywood Welcoming Committee, Bergman meets directors Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock and is told they are happy working in the corporate movie industry. But Bergman’s realisation – that the town is corrupt, and that “celebrity is destructive” – is told masterfully, and builds to a dramatic conclusion that both condemns Hollywood and satirises its conventions with rapier-sharp wit.

Not your everyday Sparks album, then, but the appeal of this tale for Sparks is clear. The story of a maverick creative force; one of cultural, European intelligence, resisting the bland and homogenising influence of corporate America to carve its own idiosyncratic path… does that remind you of anyone?

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