Review: Wonderful 'The Sparks Brothers' shines light on influential duo

Director Edgar Wright examines history behind your favorite band's favorite band.

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

Very few bands can deliver fresh, exciting new material for two decades. Even fewer can pull it off for three decades.

Sparks has been doing it for five. 

Russell Mael and Ron Mael in "The Sparks Brothers."

And that marvel of both longevity and integrity — these guys aren’t doing oldies shows at state fairs — is the impetus behind the documentary “The Sparks Brothers.” Directed by Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Baby Driver”) this isn’t a deep dive into the lives of Ron and Russell Mael, the siblings who comprise Sparks. In fact, you find out little to nothing about their private lives.

Instead it’s an appropriately awestruck look at the sheer volume of artistic work this band has produced, as well as its mostly unheralded influence on the pop music soundscape. There are plenty of bands today who don’t even realize they were influenced by Sparks because they were instead influenced by other bands who were influenced by Sparks.

Wait a minute: What the heck are Sparks?

They are an LA band who’ve had numerous hits around the world, but who never broke bigtime in the U.S. From the beginning the brothers were an oddball dichotomy. Pretty boy Russell sings like an operatic Tweety Bird and prances about the stage with classic rock star abandon. Meanwhile scrawny Ron sits at the electric piano, often sporting a Hitler moustache, alternately scowling and clowning.

Their songs — “When I’m With You,” “The Number One Song in Heaven,” “Beat the Clock” — are quirky, acerbic and inevitably witty. They started out as semi-glam in the early '70s, blended disco with new wave as time went on — all those synthesizer duos are Sparks offspring — and then just kept going, always evolving but always sounding just like Sparks.

Wright follows the band through the decades through interviews with co-conspirators, fans (Beck, Flea, Duran Duran) and pop culture geeks (Patton Oswalt) and copious clips of rowdy live performances. It’s all somewhat breathtaking.

Now in their 70s you might think the boys would want to rest. They don’t. They have a movie coming out this summer, “Annette,” starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard.

Yes, they’re going for six decades. Sparks forever.

Tom Long is a longtime contributor to The Detroit News. 

'The Sparks Brothers'


Rated R: for language

Running time: 135 minutes

In theaters