When was the last time a song you never heard before totally pierced your brain to become an automatic favorite?
I can tell you exactly when it was for me: July 1st, sitting in our friend Liz’s living room, listening to Sparks’ “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both of Us.”
Research says there is a “magic age” somewhere in our 20s where our musical taste becomes more set, owing to a combination of factors ranging to hearing loss to not having as many new experiences for music to soundtrack.
While some people concern themselves with anti-aging creme and memory-extending games, I am more worried about avoiding the potential to stop liking new music. It’s terrifying to me. Even though I already have lists of thousands of favorite songs, I still want more.
Really, it’s not as though we stop appreciating songs entirely at some point. It’s about our preferences becoming locked in. If you’ve always loved Garth Brooks, chances are you might still enjoy a new Garth Brooks song when you are 42. The thing that could become more scarce is liking something that sounds entirely new.
(Perhaps that is why our interest in popular music dwindles as we age – the sound keeps evolving with out us.)
From that perspective, I don’t think me liking “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both of Us” is as encouraging as me falling in love with the songs of Czarface on that same night, as East Coast Hip Hop is a little bit further outside of my typical preferences as the Glam Rock of Sparks.
Glam Rock was my whole life for a while there, right? The theme song of my new internet show is a song called “Glam,” wherein I state “When I was 16 I thought I was David Bowie because nobody told me there was more than life than being glam.” Liking Sparks should come as no surprise.
One way it was a surprise was just that I had never heard of Sparks. I have a pretty encyclopedic knowledge of rock history and a song collection to match, yet they were a complete stumper for me when Liz put them on the stereo.
Not only that, but the song sounded completely alien to me. I instantly recognized it as a form of Glam Rock, but it also had a galloping free time feel to it that I associate with mathier rock, like Rush. And I was convinced it was being sung by a woman, which left me completely incredulous when Liz reveal the band is comprised of a pair of brothers!
What was this sorcery!
Liz kept playing more of the song’s LP, Kimono My House, but even as I was connecting their sound to other artists like Queen and Kate Bush I couldn’t get “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both of Us” out of my head. The first thing I did when we got home was add it to my collection. The time stamp on my file is just after midnight on July 2nd.
This Sparks tune is almost completely unlike anything by Bowie, or even other glam bands like T-Rex. Honestly, Queen really is the most apt comparison. Both bands feature the same rangy vocals, oddball lyrics, and weird and occasionally anachronistic arrangements. I can imagine a universe where Queen became the underground hit and Sparks the well-known breakout.
Zoo time, is she and you time?
The mammals are your favourite type, and you want her tonight
Heartbeat, increasing heartbeat
You hear the thunder of stampeding rhinos, elephants and tacky tigers
This town ain’t big enough for the both of us
And it ain’t me who’s gonna leave
The lyrics tumble past so quickly that it’s hard to make out anything save for the title and the repeated refrain of “heartbeat, increasing heartbeat” in each verse. What do these words even mean? The song’s title sounds like the declaration of a duel, and each verse reads like the singer picturing his rival in a simple, domestic setting that might erupt into a conflict leading to the rival’s sudden death.
The other thing about the song that is really arresting is how it starts so emphatically major key and then switches to minor after the first few chords of each verse. It’s part of what lends it such a hard-to-identify, queasy vibe.
Basically, it’s a murderous fantasy sung with sickening sweetness at breakneck speed, so that you might not even realize the singer was aiming to do you in even if you were his target.
It’s weird and macabre and wonderful, and I cannot turn it off. Since July, I’ve fallen asleep with it on repeat more nights than I can count. Even if it is Glam Rock, it’s nothing like anything else I’ve known before – yet, maybe there are enough familiar elements in its DNA that I’m not really breaking out of my existing mold of musical taste to love it.
I don’t think it matters so much if you break your mold all the time or not, but it would be really sad to lose the ability to fall in a love like I’ve fallen for this one just because you’re over the age of 30.