Sparks have never done anything the easy, obvious, or conventional way. And now, 50-plus years into a career that’s unsurpassed in variety and oddity, they’ve pulled off another triumphant curveball. The Maels – singer Russell (singular style, fantastic hair) and older brother Ron (keyboard player, principal songwriter, striking moustache) – are in the middle of an extraordinary, extremely late late-career renaissance. With two nights upcoming at the Royal Albert Hall plus a slot at Glastonbury; rock, pop, film and telly stars lining up to praise them; Hollywood royalty starring in their music videos; and a César award in their back pocket for the film musical Annette, the septuagenarian pair are both more acclaimed and more popular than they’ve ever been.
Long “your favourite band’s favourite band”, the Maels’ recent career supernova has been fuelled in large part by Edgar Wright’s charming and surprisingly moving documentary, The Sparks Brothers. It exposed a huge new audience to the band’s relentless creativity.
Being in Sparks has changed “in a bunch of different ways” since the film, Ron says. Aside from playing the biggest venues of their career on their upcoming tour, they’d no idea the depth or breadth of love there was out there for them. Surprise super fans from Wright’s “excellent Rolodex” included author Neil Gaiman, Austin Powers star Mike Myers and Red Hot Chili Pepper Flea. “He was so eloquent about expressing what he felt about our band,” Ron says of the bassist, “it brought tears to our eyes.”
A less energetic duo might react by recycling some of the 76 singles they already had (including epic hits This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us and No.1 Song in Heaven) and go on the nostalgia circuit. Not Sparks.
“At this point, we really feel more urgent than ever,” says Russell. “We’re even more motivated to prove a point: that you don’t have to fall into the trap of relying on your past. What you’re doing now has got to be compelling and modern and forward-thinking and all that kind of stuff. And if it isn’t, then there’s no reason to even be doing it.”
And so, The Big Issue finds ourselves on the line to Los Angeles, where Russell and Ron are in their respective art-bedecked living rooms, to talk about The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte – their brand new album of mind-fizzing outsider pop. “We really have confidence in this album being as strong as anything that we’ve ever done,” says Ron.