Squeezing Out Sparks
Released: March 1979
Chart Peak: #40
Weeks Charted: 24
Squeezing Out Sparks is not only the definitive Graham Parker but a watershed work that may one day be regarded as the first true Eighties record. It's theme, in the immortal words of P-Funk mastermind George Clinton, might be summarized as "Think! It ain't illegal yet," except that Parker wants to shake you up and make damn sure that you feel, too. This is a savage, furious indictment of the failure of nerve of the narcissistic Me Decade, and the aim is unerringly true. There are lethal snipes at all sorts of Seventies preoccupations, from disco mentality ("Saturday Night Is Dead," and with this song is it ever!), to easy acceptance of the futility of relationships ("Discovering Japan"), to the idea that our salvation will come from some "outside" force, be it political white knights like Jerry Brown or Margaret Thatcher or Close Encounters aliens ("Waiting for the UFO's"). But there's no glib sloganeering; these are not Sixties protest songs. Rather, Jack Nitzche's pared-down production, and Parker's choked, soulful singing all combine, in the best rock tradition, to form an almost physical assault: the message comes across in the sheer intensity of the sound and the beat. You may not catch all the words, but nonetheless you'll know exactly what they mean the minute you hear them. Like all the greats, from Presley to Dylan to the Who to Springsteen to Phil Spector to the Clash, Parker's new music sounds like what it says.
- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 6/79.
The material covers a wide range of tempos, from the feisty pop-rock of "Saturday Nite Is Dead" to the empassioned balladry of "You Can't Be Too Strong." The LP has less of the dense wall-of-sound style that characterized Parker's earlier releases. Instead, the focus is on his crisp rhythm guitar work and the backup efforts of his five-man band. The London-recorded album should add to Arista's growing stature in rock, coming on top of Patti Smith, the Kinks, the Grateful Dead and Dwight Twilley. Best cuts: "Local Girls," "You Can't Be Too Strong," "Passion Is No Ordinary Word," "Waiting For The UFO's," "Saturday Nite Is Dead."
- Billboard, 1979.
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Graham Parker got his big break when a record company executive heard his demo played on Charlie Gillett's BBC Radio London Show. The dynamic live performer became a favourite of critics on both sides of the Atlantic, but the lack of a major hit single always inhibited his sales.
Squeezing Out Sparks was one of four UK releases to peak on the album chart between positions eleven and nineteen, a decent performance. In America this set marked a label change to Arista. With considerable promotion and radio play focusing on "Disovering Japan," "Local Girls" and "Protection," this album was the artist's most successful, cresting at number forty.
In 1987, Squeezing Out Sparks was chosen by a panel of rock critics and music broadcasters as the #43 rock album of all time.
- Paul Gambaccini, The Top 100 Rock 'n' Roll Albums of All Time, Harmony Books, 1987.
This is hard-assed, hard-edged, hard-workin' rock & roll in the fullest classic, yet current, sense. The Rumour, one of the era's best pub-rock bands, drives with near manic intensity while Parker spews out his truthful, honest anger above it all. R&B-based, rock-rooted, these are outpourings of a man who believes in the power of rock & roll with all the fervor he possesses. Sheer excitement enhanced by bright, hard, crisp dynamic sound. There wasn't a lot of great rock & roll made in the latter half of rock's transitional decade, but this was some of it, and it's tough stuff. A
- Bill Shapiro, Rock & Roll Review: A Guide to Good Rock on CD, 1991.
Older and more bitter, Parker delves deeper into his demons, and The Rumour just plays harder. Parker's best album, and one of the best albums of the decade. * * * * *
- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
One of the kings of cynicism, this articulate, rockin' English singer-songwriter hit a peak with his taut, acerbic, probing lyrics on perhaps one of the finest albums of the new wave era. Brimming with biting sarcasm, brilliant songwriting and an energy only matched at a Springsteen concert, its awesome power was heightened by Jack Nitzsche's production and the superb intensity of his backup band, the Rumour. It's mystifying that he did not get to be a big star. * * * * *
- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.
Squeezing Out Sparks was chosen as the 335th greatest album of all time by the editors of Rolling Stone magazine in Dec. 2003.
- Rolling Stone, 12/11/03.
Positioning himself somewhere between "angry young man" (as he was often described) and "wise philosopher," Graham Parker spends much of the tart Squeezing Out Sparks talking soul. He ponders the challenges of remaining human in trying situations, the importance of keeping passion alive, the ways love gets you twisted. Such weighty themes were not exactly dominating rock discourse in 1979, and that tells you something about Parker: He's the prototypical acerbic outsider, happiest when at odds with prevailing fashion.
Parker's songs are tightly disciplined affairs modeled on classic R&B (or a Van Morrison-style distillation of it), with the verses telling a story and the choruses summarizing a universal "lesson." The refrain of one of the best, "You Can't Be Too Strong," almost sounds like a military recruiting slogan: listen closely, and you discover a brilliant, carefully wrought essay on the conflicted emotions surrounding abortion.
Produced by veteran Jack Nitzsche, Squeezing Out Sparks, is leaner and meaner than previous Parker releases -- there's no horn section, and the rhythms slapped out by the Rumour hew closer to a driving, gritty ideal of pub-rock, with fewer excursions into reggae. Everything feels pumped and agitated except for Parker's vocals. As he navigates melodies designed to flatter his limited range and nasal tone, Parker sings with a surprising agility, if not grace; his performance on "Passion Is No Ordinary Word" stands among the great rock vocals of the 1970s.
The 1996 reissue combines the ten tracks of the original release with Live Sparks, a promo-only release sent to radio stations to show how devastating Parker and his crew could be on stage. The Sparks songs display an incredible zinging energy, as do the additional pieces -- including "Mercury Poisoning," Parker's withering assessment of circumstances at his old record label, and a spirited cover of the Jackson Five's "I Want You Back."
- Tom Moon, 1,000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die, 2008.
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