In these ‘join-the-dots’ days, when record labels floundering decide that the best approach is for open cast-calls for boy/girl band members who’ll procede through reality-style tv auditions to ‘make the band’, its so bloody refreshing to stumble across artists who have their own thing going on. Doctor Sparkles is a ukelele driven swing merchant, with a penchant for mad hatter style outfits and a light and uplifting style of cabaret that’s the perfect antidote to x-factor etc.
Its worth noting here that I’m no fan of ukeleles, cabaret, or Mad Hatter costumes – so all the more power to Doctor Sparkles (the alter ego of one Kevin Patrick Baiko) then. It helps that he, like us, has got a thing going for monkeys – his hundred monkeys mambo is a joyous step back into seductive fifties swing, and has a our favourite line of the month, which is destined to become a motto here at TMO: “Drunk monkey say ‘Fermented banana'”
There are also some intriguing instrumentals which catapult us from big-band swing through to the gypsy folk made so popular by the Gotan Project, or more recently Beirut. This is music that’s contemporary but with the sound of history ingrained – that is to say it’s living and breathing as opposed to mere pastiche.
Practice Suspicious Behaviour is a light-hearted snapshot of an America where the simplest things like your racial origins or musical preferences are called into question and bracketed as the ‘other’, whilst full-fledged paranoia and 24hr surveillance is considered respectable and normal – more importantly it’s a great tune. Doctor Sparkles balances humour and melody effortlessly.
Seemingly unrelated,Sail Away perhaps sets the whole tone of the piece. It starts with a grainy wireless broadcast tune, Doctor Sparkles singing in a campish elocution master’s voice about ‘sailing away’ from ‘a life that’s feeling truly like a horror picture movie, whose creature just won’t die’.
On the same riff there’s a special place packs a powerful punch from an understated gentle delivery. The special place being hell, reserved for all:
There’s a special place in hell for Muslims
There’s a special place in hell for Jews,
For Christians, Hindus, Buddhists,
Taoists, Pagans, Atheists,
And of course those who worship Satan too
No one’s left out! Ain’t it swell?
We each have a special place in hell!
There’s a special place in hell for you
There’s a special place in hell for me
It’s firmly tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time the message is clear throughout all the songs: forget what’s acceptable, conventional, and ‘normal’ – trust your feet, and get up and dance.
Now that’s the best (and perhaps most political) advice that I’ve had lately. Switch off the tv, and switch on to Doctor Sparkles – you won’t regret it.