Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"Puny Humans Never Learn" Dept.

You would think, after all these years, that people would remember that trying to get rid of the Hulk by shooting him into space / banishing him to nether realms / sending him to sub-atomic fantasy worlds only ends with the Hulk returning, more pissed off than he already was. You'd think someone would just think to give the Hulk, like, Australia or something. You know, one of those countries no one really ever thinks about.

Whenever I find out someone is from Australia I always feel unaccountably sorry for them. Like, I want to pat their heads and go "oh, I'm so sorry", and treat them like they've got cerebral palsy or something. I know it's not very PC, but there you go.

I've got a friend who has recently got me into Sparks - one of those bands I had heard of, vaguely, but whom I had never felt the need to seek out. I mean, I knew "Number One Song In Heaven", obviously, as an important single in the formative years of electronic pop music, but I think I recall reading a magazine article or book blurb or some point that dismissed the group as something of a novelty act, albeit one with a pedigreed history.

Turns out there's more than initially met my eye. But as much as I am enjoying most of their music, I'm also a little bit skeptical of them... which sounds odd, I know, but the fact is that I am very much skeptical of bands which place such a premium on humor. Wickedly smart, yes, musically talented and downright gifted in places - but bent to ultimately satirical ends. I am reminded, more than is comfortable, of They Might Be Giants - another group I used to hold in high esteem, but who I don't really listen to much at all anymore. I grew out of They Might Be Giants, and it was a frustrating situation, because they really are insanely talented musicians - two of the best pop songwriters of the modern era, bar none - it's just that the pop songs they choose to write seem less and less relevant the older I get, and the more I see that kind of aggressive smart-Aleck as being self-defeating and, frankly, grating. When they want to, They Might Be Giants can write straight-faced, but it's the fact that they choose not too that is so frustrating. I grew up (even if, admittedly, my mental age took some time to properly sync up with my physical age), they regressed. The Flaming Lips are a great example of the opposite phenomenon: they started out weird for weird's sake, became much better musicians, went semi-straight and wrote some great pop music. They backslid in recent years, true, and become a bit too obsessed with whimsy and humor, which accounts for the fact that I didn't buy their last album and haven't listened to Yoshimi or anything after it for years. But The Soft Bulletin is still a great record and I defy anyone to say different.

I don't know what point I was initially trying to make - except, that, listening to Sparks, while I enjoy them, I also am wearied by them. Bands like these seem to demand, by their very nature, a bit more devotion than I am comfortable giving to any band anymore: you're either really into them or you aren't, it's hard to stay on the middle ground. I wonder if that says more about them or me.

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