Sparks are a one-off band who never seem to do the same thing twice. Impossible to pigeonhole, they may not be mainstream pop-cultural figures, but they’ve made a virtue of doing their own thing; any band who could be supported by both Queen and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers are clearly mining something fairly unique. At 140+ minutes long, Edgar Wright’s documentary may well offer more insight into Sparks than anyone other than devoted fans would want, but their story is considerably more interesting than most.
Ron and Russell Mael are brothers; one is cute, the other looks like Basil Fawlty cosplaying as Hitler. Once seen, they can’t quite be forgotten, and that striking image is reflected through four decades of music and original footage, plus fresh side-by side interviews with the boys. That career has included collaborations with electro-king Giorgio Moroder, abortive film projects with Tim Burton and Jacques Tati, and a string of hits and failures which Wright catalogues with care; a roster of pop luminaries testify to the band’s originality and influence.
The length of the film is just about justified by the need to work through some 25 albums, and innumerable songs; from This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both of Us to The Number One Song in Heaven to Dick Around, The Sparks Brothers provides a useful taster for those not already under the Mael spell. Wright, however, can’t keep his affection for his heroes at arms length, and inserts himself into the film to alienating effect. Not just an interviewee; he’s also heard laughing at several contributions, and vainly leaves in a comment in which someone tells him ‘that’s why you’re a director.’ Pushing a selection of celebrity mates (Jonathan Ross, Adam Buxton) makes the film feel more like a talking heads Channel 4 Saturday night ‘I Love 1975’ filler, or a VH1 documentary; these randos are hardly key to anyone else’s version of the Sparks story but Wright’s.
Sparks are Sparks, and The Sparks Brothers does a generally effective job at capturing the long-haul reasons why they’ve got a unique place in pop music history. While undisciplined, Wright’s film cements the band’s reputation, and may well attract some new fans. Either way, the Mael brothers will continue to their next project; bouquets or brickbats seem to bounce off them anyway…