A calculated (and doomed) attempt to shock.

When last we left them, Sparks were onstage reeling through the gleefully operatic pop-skronk of their classic 'This Town Ain't Big Enough For The Both Of Us', backed by Faith No More's febrile metalisms, evergreen urchins playing mischievously with pop's shadowy undercarriage for their own perverse pleasures.

So it'd be nice to think that 'Balls', their new album, might drip with a similar acerbic malevolence. But no. Sadly, as 'Balls' proves, age has inexplicably withered Sparks' bow-legged muse; where once was genre-bending acid eclecticism and inspired wit, Sparks now seem content to dole out tired, tinny electro-pop and unfunny puns.

(you can almost hear the self-consciously wry grins). A calculated (and doomed) attempt to shock, where once they'd cause hilarious offence with ease.

Evidence of how far Sparks have fallen can be found in some tracks' resemblance to the smug comedy techno-pap of 10cc alumni Godley & Creme. Only the nagging, Numan-esque flight-mare of 'Aeroflot' and the teasingly louche 'How To Get Your Ass Kicked' scrape Sparks' previous heights. The rest is autopilot nonsense, the sound of a once sharp blade dulled to the point of inconsequence.

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