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Sparta | Threes | review | rock | Lollipop
by Tim Den
Four release into their career, Sparta have all but shed any shackles left on them by their former outfit (the name of which needs no mention). However, this freedom - similar to the one The Mars Volta are enjoying - hasn't meant better output in terms of songs. Threes follow the wildly inconsistent Porcelain with a mixed bag of its own, though a much more sonically and structurally diverse one. There are straight-ahead rockers, brooding atmospherics, and a tad of experimentation, but the main problem remains: No matter how far you try to stretch your imagination, you're not left with much unless you've got a set of strong tunes at the heart.
Opener "Untreatable Disease" and "Taking Back Control" offer up typical anthems: Big choruses that are easily digestible and "fist in the air" worthy. However, aside from a weird chord in the verse of the former, these by-the-numbers radio singles leave little impression. Sure, you sing along when they're on, but immediately afterward, you remember that bands like Idlewild do this kinda thing WAY better. "Erase it Again" tries to offset the hooky chorus with U2-ish, Grey's Anatomy soundtrack verses, but ends up sounding like a cheesy TV show theme. "Atlas" ditches distortion (for the most part) for a shot at Coldplay sensitivity, but the result is, again, transparent and tiresome. "But Sparta can write some good songs. They've proven themselves in the past," you might say to yourself. Sure, and not all U2/Coldplay rip-offs are automatically worthless, since some of 'em do yield magic out of the predictable formula. However, when the focus is on emulating style and not writing strong songs, even a good band like Sparta can fall flat on their faces. Perhaps the band members were trying to "grow" away from their post-hardcore oriented approach of the past, but at what cost? Is diversity worth uneventfulness?
There are some successes, of course. "False Start" takes all that Sparta do well and puts it into a short, concise, catchy punch that lasts for just the right amount of playtime. "Crawl" and "Weather the Storm" make good use of new guitarist/backup vocalist (and former Engine Down guitarist/vocalist) Keeley Davis' trademark descending chord progressions, even if the latter is a bit bland. And when the band again try to tackle the "epic centerpiece" akin to Porcelain's "From Now to Never," they actually come up with something not extremely mundane. "The Most Vicious Crime," although burdened with a few overwrought repetitions, manages to keep itself at six minutes and with smooth transitions.
But then there's the closer, "Translations." Apparently Sparta never heard The Promise Ring's "Say Goodbye Good" (from Wood/Water), cuz angsty rock DOES NOT mesh with Motown vocals. The out-of-place backups, delivered by a famous vocalist or not, sound at best a mix up of two recording sessions and, at worst, total diarrhea. As if the world doesn't already swallow enough R&B vocalists jizzing their throats up and down the register, Sparta went ahead and dumped a heap of 'em on top of a Hail to the Thief-sounding waltz. Calling it the worst closer I've heard in a long while would be kind-hearted.
Threes, much like The Mars Volta's most recent steaming pile, shows that neither of the two-bands-who-used-to-be-one have found solid footing without each other. Not that I'm screaming "reunion!" because - at this rate - there's no promise that such an unlikely event would produce anything resembling the past's glories. Cuz, come on, can you actually imagine what Threes would sound like on top of Amputechture? I shudder at the thought.