De Maria –  Sparkhouse (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

If grunge music has a reputation for being challenging and confrontational and more traditional rock forms seem rife with cliche and stereotypical sonic meanderings then maybe there is something to be had by taking the best of both worlds, to forge something in the middle ground of the two extremes. Music that is big, bold and boisterous, easily accessible but which is also dark, sharp-edged and intense. Anyone who could do that would surely find that they appealed to a wide spectrum of rock fans. Well, that is just what Sparkhouse does on De Maria.

Running on a restrained groove the song broods and builds along a slow-burning path gently wrapping itself in unexpected, mournful trumpets, stripping down to gloom laden beat and base interludes and finally building back up into sky-scrapping, white hot guitar salvos as it runs on to its logical conclusion. This is grunge, alt-rock…call it what you will…for the 21st century. Music which has studied its own history, the dark post-punk years, the rise of the Seattle based scene, 80’s stadium excess and the post-rock responses to all of those seemingly fairly conventional approaches, learned from them, borrowed, evolved and adapted.

It comes with a suitably alternative video to match. Artful, beguiling and intriguing, graceful and wilfully obscure, it works as a media statement all of its own but put the two together and you have the complete package.

Some people advocate revolution as a way forward but this is evolution at work. Change doesn’t come by smashing down the cultural barricades, not any permanent or meaningful change anyway. Change comes by learning from the past and using it to subtly change the flow and that is exactly what Sparkhouse excel at. For as much as there is a familiarity about there sound it also rings out with future potential. It avoids the cliches of classic rock and also the style over substance that much of the alternative scene has become; more interested in their haircuts and designer labels, and instead offers a new and interesting path for rock music to take. It is a journey that is happy to wander through any number of genres, that visits the past and the present on its way to the future, that reminds us that whilst rock music isn’t going away any time soon, the form it takes, just like all styles of music has to move with the times.

In short, it is a great song, one that derives its power from restraint and underplay so that when it does switch gears the impact is all the more impressive. It mixes the fresh with the familiar, the old with the new, the cultish with the commercial. Sounds like the perfect musical vehicle with which to drive into the future to me.

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