Provocative pop music is often reduced to the unhelpful generalisation of being any music possessing a pre-meditated, obviously anti-social, attack on established common norms (pelvis-thrusting Elvis, delinquent Rolling Stones, bisexual Ziggi, etc.).
Dig a little deeper, however, and you find that many of music’s finest provocations used subtle, rather than grand, gestures. In the late 90s, Marilyn Manson’s dark, satanic, image shocked, but nowhere near as much as David LaCapelle’s iconic image of a Teletubby- hugging, shirt-unbuttoned, supposedly virgin, Britney Spears.
Always looking for a reaction, Sparks’ Boiler Shop show proved, as we all knew, that the brothers can deliver huge statements in a way few other pop/dance/opera acts can. ‘Number One in Heaven’ and ‘This Town Ain’t Being Enough For Both of Us’ are perfectly delivered with expected panache and slapstick stage presence; obviously provocative in the way they challenge the audience to re-consider the borders often placed around what pop music is and what it can be.
Yet it’s the small but purposeful challenges which are most impactful to the evening, particularly ‘My Baby’s Taking Me Home’ with its eve-repeating chorus lyric. Initially slapstick, it’s the lyric repetition which allows the song to transcend its presented meaning and reveal the songs real intent: a prayer of comfort by a dying lover to a loved one who’s already passed over. Similar in content and presentation to Bowie’s ‘Lazarus’, it’s heart-breaking.
We see similar phenomena with ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and ‘All I Do is Dick Around’, with both songs using deliberately cartoonish lyrics and bubblegum melodies to deceive the listener and camouflage central themes of heartbreak and inadequacy.
The brothers are both masters in blending high and low brow art and rewarding an audience for staying focused and avoiding distractions.
Proving that they’ve spent almost half a century provoking us, whether we’ve noticed or not, this is live pop music in its most meaningful form.