There are a couple of "lost recordings" that you can only read about and try to picture in your head. What would the complete "Smile"-sessions by The Beach Boys have sounded like, and what about that album recorded by Tricky and Neneh Cherry, locked away somewhere in a record company vault?
"Lil' Beethoven" is like a lost recording, only not lost, but actually released to us as an unlikely gift from out of time. The music on this album is so improbable that no references or comparisons can be made in contemporary pop music. The tradition of artistic ambition, big orchestration and the broad stylistic variety harkens back to the most conceptual and theatrical works of Brian Wilson, Pete Townsend and The Beatles. Amazingly, this album by a band that's been going for about 30 years and released around 20 albums, doesn't sound the least dated. Perhaps we are, once more since the heyday of Sparks in the seventies, ready for some really ambitious, smart music?
"Lil' Beethoven" plays out like a rock musical with hammering pianos and Russel Maels smartly delivered vocals in dialogue with a choir chanting thematic mantras. It is absolutely epic, and soars brilliantly from sly love ballads like "I Married Myself" to the furious metal of "Ugly Guys with Beautiful Girls". No musical building blocks are left unused, so expect symphonic orchestras, electric guitars and samplers in profusion. The darkly humorous lyrics contrast with the larger-than-life musical delivery, further confusing the expectations of a listener brought up on a diet of unreflectively silly music. The ability of the brothers Mael to metamorphose and meld musical opposites is nothing less than incredible.
In the wake of their albums, such as after recording with synth disco legend Giorgio Moroder in the late 70:s, a plethora of musical ideas have been left lying around for other artists to pick up. Today, Sparks are credited as grandfathers of electro clash and inspirators of later greats like Devo and New Order, but the band has since long left that phase behind. "Lil' Beethoven" seems to issue a challenge to popular music everywhere.
To the impotent nu metal genre, to the bloodless composers of electronica and to all the lazy bastards in pop music churning out routine material they pose the question: is that the best you can do?