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Sparks – ‘The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman’

December 5, 2009

The 22nd album from the wonderful Sparks, is a rather peculiar piece, even for them.

Sparks have always done things their own way, and this is no exception. It is a concept album, and the very premise sounds pretty preposterous when you first hear it. I will do my best to explain, Sparks were commissioned by the Swedish national radio to produce a piece for them, that in some way concerned Sweden. That in itself is a fairly out there request, the Swedish equivalent of the BBC getting Sparks to produce music for them. The end result is radio musical centred around the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, and the scenario of him finding himself in Hollywood and put under pressure to direct a Hollywood style film. The story the piece tells is centred around Bergman’s internal struggle whether to be seduced my Hollywood and the budget they can provide, but to do so would involve concession of his artistic integrity. It later centres around his external struggles to escape the pull of Hollywood, as he goes on the run.

There’s some excellent Spark’s numbers here, but they are intrinsically linked to the piece as whole. To separate them from the piece as a whole wouldn’t work, the songs carry along the narrative of the story that is being told. So, it is no surprise then that instead of trying to break it up into a number of tracks, that ‘ The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman’ is one continuous 65 minute track. Rather than being entirely music, there are interludes of speech carrying along the narrative, with often simple orchestral music or piano in the background. This is in stark contrast to the impressive sounding, often aggressive guitar parts of the actual songs.

I’ve found ‘The Seduction’ to get better on each successive listen, as there is simply so much happening across the length of the piece, that it’s easy to miss things. In 2009 I didn’t think I’d ever listen to anything like this, it is without a doubt that this is the best thing that I have heard all year.

I’m not normally a fan of musicals, but this really worked for me. The voice acting is really well done, and at times slightly comical, but this is no detriment to the piece especially considering how surreal the story is.

As good as this is though, I don’t feel it would be a good starting point for someone new to Sparks. With it’s long running time, and the unusual format in which the music is presented, it is not representative of Sparks’ musical output. The are several good entry points to Sparks if you should wish to investigate them if you are unfamiliar. I would suggest either a greatest hits, of which there are many, or 1974’s ‘Kimono My House’ which contains their biggest hit ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us.’

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