Press statement: Martin Gordon & Kimono My House 2014
Universal Music Group is, if we are to believe its press release – and why should we not? – “delighted to announce the release of a definitive vinyl version of Sparks’ landmark 1974 release, Kimono My House”. I believe it. The LP has been released countless times on CD and in every other format you might care to mention. Its constituent parts have been disassembled for inclusion on approximately 290 compilation albums since 1974. What’s not to be delighted about?
Here’s a brief look at the history of the album. The New Musical Express, on the release of Kimono in 1974, said: “Kimono My House… is an Instant Classic – the third this year (the others being Pretzel Logic and Todd). But where Steely Dan and Todd Rundgren are working over fascinating refinements of rock-as-she-is, Sparks have gone one better.”
The critics clapped their hands in waves of massed applause; the public went out in droves and spent their cash. They bought the single that trailed the album, “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both of Us”, in vast numbers, sending it to #2 in the charts at a time when the charts had significance as both a commercial and cultural indicator; then they bought the album itself. Kimono was certified gold within five months of its release, a feat that no other Sparks album has managed. Indeed, Universal recently stated that sales have reached the level qualifying Kimono for a platinum-disc award.
Now back to the 2014 press release from UMG: this covers in microscopic detail the packaging (“thick-spined outer sleeve”, “original inner bag”) and previews the accompanying reading material (“new notes by Russell Mael”, as well as, somewhat portentously, “an essay by Paul Lester”) before noting that the LP is “mastered for vinyl by Bill Inglot”. It concludes by announcing that the album will be performed in its entirety in late 2014 at the Barbican in London, by “Ron and Russell Mael… with the Heritage Orchestra”. And so it will be, on December 19 and 20, one of which dates is already sold out.
The Heritage Orchestra: the name of their collaborator is, presumably inadvertently, well chosen. There is indeed a certain amount of heritage (three-fifths, to be precise) that is missing from this official UMG-issued, band-echoed picture, namely any reference to the fact that this “landmark” recording was made not by a duo but by a band comprised of five musicians.
Sparks had released two commercially unsuccessful albums as a US-based act before ditching their collaborators in America, relocating to the UK and acquiring a different bunch of musicians. As a result of this fresh input, they also acquired a different modus operandi, a different sound and, finally, success.
The new band heard on Kimono My House are (or, more accurately, were) brothers Ron and Russell Mael; Adrian Fisher, who played guitar; Norman “Dinky” Diamond, who played drums; and me on bass guitar. Of these five, two are no longer with us. Adrian Fisher died of a heart attack in Thailand, his place of residence, in 2000. Dinky Diamond, tragically, killed himself in 2003.
To return to that 1974 NME review: “Kimono My House signposts a sea change in the genre: rock-as-she-will-be – or at least could be”, is what the late great critic, Ian MacDonald, wrote. Well, despite MacDonald’s evident hopes, it was not to be. Sparks have released 22 albums during their (still-continuing) career, but have never managed to repeat the success of this album. The line-up responsible for this breakthrough recording didn’t last either, the Maels preferring to ditch creative tension for compliance.
I was sacked immediately after the album was completed (I survived). Guitarist Fisher was next – he lasted halfway through the next album before his time was up. Drummer Diamond persevered for another two albums before he too was ditched. Sales plummeted; none of Sparks’ subsequent releases attained gold certification, let alone platinum. The brothers’ career stalled; they finally admitted defeat in the UK and returned to California to reinvent themselves in a variety of roles, ranging from shoulder-padded disco-shuffling popsters to, currently, post-post-modern minimalists.
I have had no financial interest in this album for 40 years. Following my dismissal, the band/management/record company, in a spectacular piece of legalistic nastiness, acquired my artist’s royalties in perpetuity. So I’m out of it, to coin a phrase. But as nobody is speaking up on behalf of the dead guys, I would like to make a couple of salient points.
The Kimono My House recording, unlike its predecessors and successors, is the product of a process; and there were five people involved in it. Those who were not included in it were latter-day writers of “essays” and mastering engineers. Possibly the two Mael brothers, at their distinguished age, have difficulty recalling the names of the others who, by their contributions, enabled the commercial breakthrough of the band, without which the Mael’s continued career would most likely not have been possible. Some people might think that deleting three-fifths of the contributors from an announcement of the triumphant return of a “landmark recording”, and substituting them with references to technicians and scribes, and flagging up a ‘heritage’ orchestra, is a bit cheap. And I would be one of them.
Martin Gordon, Berlin, 28th November, 2014.