Punk came at us very quickly. It was a genre that changed the world at the relative rate of a light switch. In fact, by 1982, less than a decade on from its beginnings in earnest, it had already begun to fracture. The progressive and positive spin-off was post-punk. Also, a few core bands kept the central tenets alive successfully without too much of an evolution, but on the other end of the spectrum, you either had a kitsch and commercialised brand or a sort of overly performative angsty, dogmatically political punk.
It would seem that Sparks picked up on the operative word of angsty, placed it firmly in their pants, and reclaimed the waggish wherewithal and visceral vitality of punk with their own brand of it. Naturally, given that it is the very singular Sparks we are dealing with here, it sounded nothing at all like conventional punk in a lot of regards. Nevertheless, there is something about Angst In My Pants’ gleeful irreverence, youthful prurient playfulness and insistence of pairing dick jokes with pointed riffs that reflected something back at how ridiculous the serious side of punk had become.
As the poet John Cooper Clarke had said of the punk pioneers the Ramones a few years earlier, they proved “it was better to have clever lyrics about moronic subjects than the other way around.” The Sparks ingeniously opened their 1982 record with a song about a well-to-do gentleman who is persistently plagued by a trouser rocket that rises like it’s stationed at the Bay of Pigs without any means to ever fire it. You can hide it with nautical knots, but sexual frustration will always put angst in your pants, is ultimately the punchline of the song.
Admittedly, that might not be from the Newtonian school of ‘clever’ thinking, but in a world where reverence is all too often reserved for the millionth solemn love song in history, there is a thrilling originality to the daftness of Sparks that still proves as refreshing as a karaoke shithole after the pretence of a so-called cool club. Of course, that is a riotous triumph for the album, but such is our warped view on the art of comedy, it seems pertinent to say that I mean it in the best possible way.
Sparks have always been funny, but they have oddly always been deadly serious too. This isn’t their only paradox—they’re the best British band ever to come out of America, however, Jonathan Ross would argue that they aren’t even a band: “They don’t really look like a band. They just look like people who’ve been let out for the day.” Angst In My Pants is also a paradox: in some weird way, it’s oddly artistically profound and utterly pointless.
That’s how the album feels to the listener too. Angst In My Pants as a record is a wonderful listen one day, and the next it’s almost rage-inducing and irritating. That, in short, is almost the quintessential beauty of Sparks. We’re 40 years on from the release of the record and it still remains polarising—polarising even in the mind of the very same fan.
However, it would be too much to call it their definitive record. There is no definitive Sparks record. As Russell Mael told me when I recently asked where he would recommend new fans of the band (brought in by the Sparks Brothers documentary) should start, “Probably the greatest hits.” And this wasn’t some flippant Alan Partridge-inspired joke either—their style is such a particular one, yet their sound is so evolving, that they are best embraced as one odd effervescing entity.
Angst In My Pants has never lost its fizz and at this stage, you can happily say that it never will. Although it is flawed and a bit too frenzied from time to time, surely its timeless zip is a sign of a masterpiece, maybe not an Earth-shattering one, but a hip-shaking one all the same. Simply put, it’s a whole lot of fun and everything that entails.