No, not the mediocre 2000s classic rock revivalists “Jet.” This was a mid-70s glam rock “supergroup” with ex-Sparks bassist Martin Gordon leading the way (along with a bunch of other cast-offs from more famous bands). Jet produced one decent album, then transformed into Radio Stars – a better and heavier band, like a British Cheap Trick. They only made two records – the first is the best – but all of these albums are worth hearing.
Even More Light Than Shade (Outtakes and Demos)
Songs For Swinging Lovers *
So Martin Gordon was the bassist on Sparks’ classic “Kimono My House” record. If you’ve heard that record, you know that the bass playing DESTROYS. It’s one of the key features to the sound – but for some shady reason, Gordon’s distorted tone and energetic lines would never again make their way onto a Mael brothers production. He started this band immediately after being given his walking papers in Sparks. It was a “supergroup” of sorts with ex-members from other glam and psych bands (The Nice, John’s Children, Roxy Music). The record company brought in Roy Thomas Baker to produce. This sounds like a recipe for a killer glam rock album, no? So what does this thing sound like, then? Sparks. A LOT like Sparks. But not as distinct or catchy. Of course, what could be as distinct and catchy as the Mael brothers? That’s a high standard to hold this thing up against. For me (and most people), Sparks’ glam rock albums represent the best part of their career – a sound they’d too quickly leave behind. So it’s nice to have another album with this quirky neurotic glammy style. And there are definitely minor pleasures to be derived from derivative second-tier glam rock – it’s just such a fun genre! I don’t mean to sound too harsh – this isn’t Gary Glitter. These are all well-written and highly energetic productions, with oddball lyrics and enough eccentricity and intelligence to pull this well out of the glitter-filled trash bin. But there’s something missing here – a magic and chutzpah that may have come to light had the band continued recording (and does come to light to a greater degree on the Radio Stars records). It’s a very consistent album, but none of the hooks reach out and grab me the way the best poppy glam hooks should (and DO on the Sparks records this band clearly wants to ape). It’s certainly possible Martin Gordon was more responsible for the early Sparks sound than I’m giving him credit for – but due to his non-inclusion on albums like “Propoganda” and “Indiscreet,” I have to imagine the original vision was mostly Mael. The catchiest songs here are “Nothing To Do With Us,” “It Would Be Good,” and the goofy bouncy “Whangdepootenewah.” Everything works though – they’re all nice and sparkly and forceful. Vocalist Andy Ellison does a decent Russell Mael imitation. Martin Gordon is still using those bad-ass bass tones. If you’re a 70s Sparks fan, you HAVE to hear it. And even if you just like this genre, you should get it. But this is the glam rock equivalent of “Flash” – that was the prog band started by ex-Yes members around the same time that these guys started up. The sound is there, the playing is great, the writing solid. But sometimes you just need Ron Mael or Jon Anderson. I said SOMETIMES!
EVEN MORE LIGHT THAN SHADE (OUTTAKES) (1974 – 2000)
This collection of demos and live performances and outtakes was included with my “Jet” self-titled CD. And I’m glad I got to hear it – the demos were intended for a never-recorded second album and they are JUST as good if not better than the tunes on the debut. It’s a shame these guys never got to make a proper follow-up. Those new songs are the heart of this comp – “Around The World In Eighty Minutes,” “We Love Noise,” “Tax Loss,” “Don’t Cry Joe,” and “Our Boys” could have been wonderful album cuts. The sound quality isn’t much to write home ’bout, as these are clearly demos – but the hooks cut through and they’re all full of fun quirky glam melodies. The lyrics of “Antler” are hilarious and very Sparks-like. The live performances here don’t do much for me – the band basically sounds live on the debut anyway, and these performances don’t add much to the originals. Though the 2000 reunion concert tracks that end this platter are surprisingly feisty – I didn’t even realize they came from such a late date until I checked the liner notes. Worth a listen.
SONGS FOR SWINGING LOVERS (1977)
This is a deliriously entertaining charmer of a power pop record. I think the closest comparison would be (good) Cheap Trick, but it’s goofier and more polished than early Trick. Andy Ellison sounds like Pete Shelly throughout large portions of this record, so sometimes things remind me of Buzzcocks at their most playful. And early Tubes too due to the comedic qualities exhibited here. The guys have definitely grown since their Jet days, as the hooks and playing on here are tighter and more forceful than anything released during that earlier incarnation of the band. And Ellison seems a lot more comfortable in this environment than he did with his mock-Mael-isms on the previous record.This is still sorta rooted in Sparksy glam, but it’s much more punk and new wave inspired – the arrangements are stripped down and the energy amped up the entire time. A quirky power pop record like this is ALL about the hooks, and that’s absolutely what this album delivers. The songs aren’t particularly brilliant, but they’re all very catchy and fun. There are some fantastic tracks on here – speedy opener “Good Personality” showcases the new “punky” aesthetic right off the bat. “Is It Really Necessary” and “Nervous Wreck” are the two best pure pop songs – the first is a perfectly constructed and memorable should-have-been-hit, and the second has a series of hilarious oddball vocal hooks! “Nice Girls” is another winner with a killer chorus. That song opens with a fake-out near-quote of “Pinball Wizard” before kicking into the song proper – it’s a confusingly awesome moment. The only real misstep on here is “The Beast Of Barnsley,” which takes the quirkiness a bit too far and ends up sounding rather silly and dated. A certain amount of pleasant stupidity has to be allowed on an album like this (same goes for Cheap Trick), but the chorus of “Beast” just sounds TOO STUPID. My edition comes with pre-album single “Dirty Pictures,” which is clearly one of the band’s best and most immediate tracks. The album as a whole has my whole-hearted recommendation.
HOLIDAY ALBUM (1978)
The second and final Radio Stars record shoots more for muscular and endearingly dumb power pop rather than the more eccentric and goofy power pop of the debut. So at this point really are essentially the British Cheap Trick. The record is also a bit more commercial, and something of a minor disappointment to me. Half of the new material is as strong as anything off the debut – but there’s some score-killing half-assed filler on this album that does absolutely nothing for me. And the hooks aren’t quite as strong in general. Things start off great though – “Radio Stars” was probably meant to be the band’s “Hello There,” a similarly brief and smashing introduction to the band’s aesthetic and ideals. Obviously a perfect concert opener. Then comes the best overall tune – “Boy Meets Girl,” with a great chorus and a heavy thumping late-70s sound. It RAWKS! “Baffin Island” follows – another uber-catchy chorus and a fun Sparks-like song. Heavier though. Next up is the first piece of obvious filler – a dumb comedy blues number called “(I’ve Got Dem Old) Sex In Chains Blues Part 1.” Ellison affects a silly gruff blues voice, and there’s harmonica and a simple boogie woogie blues progression. Just not very funny, and a total toss-off. Other bad news: a silly rocking cover of “Norwegian Wood” and the generic “Rock ‘n’ Roll For The Time Being,” which is SO much like a sub-par Cheap Trick track. Ellison does sound like a bad-ass rock singer on a lot of this album, and he unearths a lot of masculine power for radio-ready tracks like “The Real Me” and “I’m Down.” The former suffers from using The Who’s title, but the chorus is just simple enough that I imagine it probably could have been a popular single. The latter is very much “Radio Stars does Lennon,” but the band performs it wonderfully and it has some of the best melodic ideas on the record. “It’s All Over” shoots for a big Spector sound and gets close enough – great vocals on that one too. There’s still enough quality material on here to warrant a listen or two – but it’s definitely a step down from the debut, and you might as well get that one first.