One of the great things about Sparks down the decades has been their innate ability to innovate and inspire those that follow in their wake. The fact that those that follow in their wake have their own disciples and, somewhat frustratingly, bigger sales, only adds to the lure of Sparks for me.
Having made great use of their enviable position as the inspirational act that inspires other inspirational acts on their previous album, Plagiarism, Sparks entered the new millennium with interest in them increasing.Shame then that they wasted it with Balls, one of the weaker albums of their career, but seemingly one that they had to get out of their system.
It starts well enough, with the gloriously catchy title, followed by the almost as good “More Than a Sex Machine”, the trouble is, after that, Balls is an album that really struggles to maintain its focus. It has its moments for sure, nowhere more so than the trilogy of “Aeroflot”, “The Calm Before the Storm” and “How to Get Your Ass Kicked”, which desperately try to re-engage the listener, but for some reason, despite being perfectly good tunes, fails to halt the rest of the album from falling far short of Sparks usual high standards.
Sparks fans are on the whole a relatively patient bunch, and more than willing to give the Mael Brothers the benefit of he doubt, but there’s no escaping the fact that Balls was a rare misfire for Ron and Russell. You almost feel bad for not liking it as much as other Sparks albums, until you realise that Balls is an album where they have started sounding too much like the acts that they themselves inspired, particularly Pet Shop Boys. That’s not to say that The Pet Shop Boys aren’t a great act, because they undoubtedly are, it’s just that on Balls, Sparks were overcome by a backwash of inspiration that temporarily deluged them.
As I say, Balls is probably an album that The Mael Brothers probably had to get out of their system, as it’s the inevitable result of influencing the influential. Whatever the case, it was only a temporary setback, as over the next eight years, Sparks would go on to release three of the finest albums ever recorded.