Lil' Beethoven

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Lil' Beethoven
Studio album by Sparks
Released November 26, 2002
Recorded Sparks Studio, Los Angeles, California 2001–2002
Genre Art rock, chamber pop, minimalist music
Length 44:36
Label Palm Pictures (US), Lil' Beethoven (UK)
Producer Ron Mael, Russell Mael
Sparks chronology
Balls
(2000)
Lil' Beethoven
(2002)
Hello Young Lovers
(2006)
Singles from Lil' Beethoven
  1. "Suburban Homeboy" b/w "Wunderbar (Concerto In Koch Minor)"
    Released: March 24, 2003
Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[1]
PopMatters (?)[2]
Rolling Stone (Positive)[3]

Lil' Beethoven is the nineteenth album by Sparks, released in 2002.

History[edit]

By 2002, Sparks had released eighteen albums, the last seven of them in the synthpop vein. While this had been successful, breaking them in the US with 1983's "Cool Places" and in Germany with "When Do I Get To Sing 'My Way'?" in 1995, it had not secured them much critical acclaim or a consistent audience. 1997's Plagiarism had been intended to introduce the group's history to their new German audience, while building on the success with high-profile collaborations for the UK and US audience. It had only been partially successful.

The next album, Balls, had not been at all successful and was generally perceived as Sparks treading water.[4] Sparks then decided to change tack, dropping the synthpop sound, reducing the musical palette and developing the music upon piano lines and lyrics of Ron Mael and the vocals of Russell Mael.

Sound[edit]

Described by the band themselves as a "career-defining opus", Lil' Beethoven saw the duo move into a more classical-influenced sound, with a heavy reliance on repetitive lyrics and piano lines, synthesized orchestration and multi-tracking. Opening track "The Rhythm Thief" is an overall introduction to the album's anti-electropop/techno message by declaring "say goodbye to the beat". "My Baby's Taking Me Home" largely consists of the title repeated over 100 times with no other words being used, other than a spoken interlude.[5] Similarly, "Your Call Is Very Important To Us" uses a corporation style call-hold message: "Your call is very important to us. Please hold" which is then sung with some additional words: "At first she said your call is very important to us, then she said please, please hold." The only other lyrics in the song are "Red light", "Green light", "I'm Getting Mixed Signals" and "Sorry, I'm Going To Have To Put You Back On Hold". These elements are layered with a simple piano line to create a highly textured effect.[6] "Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls" is often noted for being the only track on the album to feature full use of the electric guitar, and has been seen as a pointer towards the sound of their next album, Hello Young Lovers.

Reaction[edit]

The album was critically applauded, which led to renewed interest in the band; Record Collector magazine named the album as one of its "Best New Albums of 2002", describing it as "... possibly the most exciting and interesting release ever from such a long established act"[7] and later in 2003 saying "... it really does feel like one of the best albums ever made."[5]

Release[edit]

Lil' Beethoven, while critically acclaimed, did not chart inside the top 100 in the UK, Germany or the US. It was released in a limited edition which had hard-cover book binding. The album was promoted by the single Suburban Homeboy: it, too, did not chart. The single was backed two b-sides, an extended version of Suburban Homeboy (Suburban Homeboy (Extended "Ron Speaks" Version)) and Wunderbar (Concerto In Koch Minor), which samples the voice of German sports commentator Günther Koch.

Re-release[edit]

In March 2004, Sparks re-issued Lil' Beethoven in a deluxe edition. This version had a black sleeve as opposed to the white original, and included three audio tracks (two of which were exclusive), a video of "The Rhythm Thief", a short film by Ron Mael, and a screensaver. An LP version of the album (which did not include any bonus tracks) was also released at the same time.

A DVD produced by Demon Vision was also released of a live performance of the album. The live performance was filmed in March 2004 at the Södra Teatern in Stockholm, Sweden. The DVD features the album performed in full and in order, followed by a set of twelve other Sparks songs.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Ron Mael and Russell Mael. 

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "The Rhythm Thief"   5:18
2. "How Do I Get To Carnegie Hall?"   3:50
3. "What Are All These Bands So Angry About?"   3:32
4. "I Married Myself"   4:59
5. "Ride 'Em Cowboy"   4:20
Side two
No. Title Length
6. "My Baby's Taking Me Home"   4:42
7. "Your Call's Very Important To Us. Please Hold."   4:11
8. "Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls"   7:06
9. "Suburban Homeboy"   2:58
Deluxe edition bonus tracks
No. Title Length
10. "The Legend Of Lil' Beethoven"   2:06
11. "Wunderbar (Concerto In Koch Minor)"   3:54
12. "The Rhythm Thief (Instrumental Version)"   5:24
13. "The Rhythm Thief" (Video)  
14. "Inspiration Behind Lil' Beethoven: "Fear of a Blank Page"" (Visual)  
15. "Lil' Beethoven Screen Saver"    

Personnel[edit]

  • Russell Mael – Vocals, programming, production, arrangements
  • Ron Mael – Keyboards, orchestrations, programming, production, arrangements
  • Tammy Glover – Drums
  • Dean Menta – Guitar
  • John Thomas – Mixing, additional engineering
  • Günther Koch – Vocals on "Wunderbar"

DVD[edit]

Lil' Beethoven – Live in Stockholm
  1. "The Rhythm Thief"
  2. "How Do I Get To Carnegie Hall?"
  3. "What Are All These Bands So Angry About?"
  4. "I Married Myself"
  5. "Ride 'Em Cowboy"
  6. "My Baby's Taking Me Home"
  7. "Your Call's Very Important To Us. Please Hold"
  8. "Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls"
  9. "Suburban Homeboy"
  10. "It's A Sparks Show"
  11. "National Crime Awareness Week"
  12. "Here In Heaven"
  13. "The Number One Song in Heaven"
  14. "Nothing To Do"
  15. "The Calm Before The Storm"
  16. "The Ghost Of Liberace"
  17. "Talent Is An Asset"
  18. "Hospitality On Parade"
  19. "When I Kiss You (I Hear Charlie Parker Playing)"
  20. "This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us"
  21. "When Do I Get To Sing 'My Way'?"
  22. "Amateur Hour"
Special Features
  1. "The Legend Of Lil' Beethoven"
  2. Soundcheck
  3. Backstage With Sparks
  4. Audience Interviews / Meet The Fans
  5. Sparks Facts
Live personnel
  • Russell Mael – Vocals
  • Ron Mael – Keyboards
  • Tammy Glover – Drums, Timpani, Percussion and Backing Vocals
  • Dean Menta – Guitar, Timpani and Backing Vocals

References[edit]

  1. ^ Allmusic review
  2. ^ PopMatters review
  3. ^ Rolling Stone review
  4. ^ Encyclopedia of Popular Music. "Sparks". BBC. Retrieved 2006-04-13. [dead link]
  5. ^ a b Easlea, Daryl (July 2003). "Sparks Interview". Record Collector Magazine Issue 287. 
  6. ^ "Hello Young Lovers review on StylusMagazine.com". Retrieved 2006-04-25. 
  7. ^ Various Staff Writers (January 2003). "Best New Albums of 2002". Record Collector Magazine Issue 281.