|Studio album by|
|Released||October 14, 2002 (UK)|
November 26, 2002 (US)
|Studio||Sparks Studios, Los Angeles, California|
|Genre||Art pop, neo-classical, minimalism|
|Label||Palm (US) |
Lil' Beethoven / Artful (UK)
|Producer||Ron Mael, Russell Mael|
|Singles from Lil' Beethoven|
By 2002, Sparks had released eighteen albums, the last several of them in the new wave/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, which consisted entirely of new recordings of earlier material, had been intended to introduce the group's back catalog 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. The duo had already written an entire album's worth of material for a follow-up, but found that they were unenthusiastic with the results and so the album was scrapped, a decision which they admitted was difficult but ultimately crucial for them to continue challenging themselves and evolving their sound.
Sparks then decided to change track, 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.
In 2001, the Maels were commissioned by a German broadcasting company to produce a song for Günther Koch Revisited (Voll In Den Mann), an album that featured samples of sports commentator Günther Koch set to music. The band's contribution, "Wunderbar", placed Koch's highly-spirited exclamations over an orchestral backing. The duo acknowledged that making the track provided them a blueprint for the direction that they would take on Lil' Beethoven. As it as been the case with each Sparks album since 1994's Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins, the album was self-produced by the duo and recorded in Russell Mael's home studio.
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-tracked vocals in place of percussion. Opening track "The Rhythm Thief" is an overall introduction to the band's new direction 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. 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.
The majority of the sounds on Lil' Beethoven were produced with a Yamaha S80 keyboard.
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" and later in 2003 saying "... it really does feel like one of the best albums ever made."
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.
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" (directed by long-time collaborators Kuntzel+Deygas), 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.
All tracks written by Ron Mael and Russell Mael.
|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|
|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|
|Deluxe edition bonus tracks (2004)|
|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"|
- 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"
- Lil' Beethoven – Live in Stockholm
- "The Rhythm Thief"
- "How Do I Get To Carnegie Hall?"
- "What Are All These Bands So Angry About?"
- "I Married Myself"
- "Ride 'Em Cowboy"
- "My Baby's Taking Me Home"
- "Your Call's Very Important To Us. Please Hold"
- "Ugly Guys With Beautiful Girls"
- "Suburban Homeboy"
- "It's A Sparks Show"
- "National Crime Awareness Week"
- "Here In Heaven"
- "The Number One Song in Heaven"
- "Nothing To Do"
- "The Calm Before The Storm"
- "The Ghost Of Liberace"
- "Talent Is An Asset"
- "Hospitality On Parade"
- "When I Kiss You (I Hear Charlie Parker Playing)"
- "This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us"
- "When Do I Get To Sing 'My Way'?"
- "Amateur Hour"
- Special Features
- "The Legend Of Lil' Beethoven"
- Backstage With Sparks
- Audience Interviews / Meet The Fans
- 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
- Allmusic review
- PopMatters review
- "Album Reviews: Sparks". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on November 3, 2008. Retrieved September 22, 2015.
- Encyclopedia of Popular Music. "Sparks". BBC. Retrieved April 13, 2006.[dead link]
- "Sparks - Lil' Beethoven". Allmusic. Retrieved February 8, 2015.
- Easlea, Daryl (July 2003). "Sparks Interview". Record Collector Magazine Issue. 287.
- "Hello Young Lovers review on StylusMagazine.com". Archived from the original on March 29, 2006. Retrieved April 25, 2006.
- "Best New Albums of 2002". Record Collector. 281. January 2003.