We watch music documentaries mostly to feel nostalgia and awe. We want to learn about artists we admire, remember how they affected us when we first heard/discovered them and understand their music a little better. Edgar Wright’s The Sparks Brothers, checks off these rock doc boxes, but it’s also got a joyful spirit that we haven’t seen from the genre for some time. Even if you’re not all that familiar with the duo Sparks, you’re likely to finish the film with a giant smile on your face and not just because they were your “favorite band’s favorite band,” as the doc’s tagline proclaims.
Of course, Sparks have always been a joyful band, with a gift for whipping together silliness and serious musicianship into an extremely fun froth, thanks to the yin and yang of brothers Ron (the oddball Charlie Chaplin-like instrumentalist) and Russell (the frontman with the requisite great hair and charismatic presence). Their whimsical yet satiric lyricism and glam meets bubblegum-flavored artrock was and still is, unique to say the least.
Personally, Sparks were my first-ever real concert (at the Greek in 1984) so they’ll always have a sentimental hold on my heart. I related to their quirkiness and was sucked in by their catchiness, which stood out amidst my faves at the time as a 12-year-old— Duran Duran, The Cure, etc. They were staples on local juggernaut station KROQ 106.7 via the album Angst in my Pants, which had some really hooky and kooky tracks— “I Predict” “Mickey Mouse” and “Eaten By the Monster of Love,” the latter getting a boost on the Valley Girl soundtrack.
They were a beloved band before Angst, but not in the U.S. As the film chronicles, the brothers and their band moved to England back in the ‘70s and saw some success there. Much like Suzi Quatro (who was massive in the U.K. and Europe, but not here), Sparks just fit in better abroad, so much so, that many casual fans probably didn’t even know they were from sunny Los Angeles, not London.
From their Top of the Pops performances to their role as the amusement park band in the 70s cult classic Rollercoaster, Wright’s film highlights the Mael bros story like the wild ride it obviously was. The director, known for fictional music-driven movies Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Baby Driver, as well as the humor/horror classic Shaun of the Dead, interprets the brothers’ real life journey with reverence and delight, presenting an exceptional smorgasbord of talking heads speaking alongside them: Weird Al, Beck, Flea, Bjork, Jane Wiedlin (who shared the hit “Cool Places” with the duo), Mike Myers, Todd Rundgren and more, all in calming black and white, contrasted by archival footage and well-placed animation in vibrant color.
With 25 studio albums under their belt, the Maels still live up to their name as musicians and people, and Wright’s film is a giddy celebration of their five-decade long vision and under-appreciated influence. It will go down as one of best music docs ever (I predict!). And this song will fade out, and this song will fade….
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