THE MAEL BROTHERS have always been viewed as rock’s most eccentric siblings. Their contrasting personae of the pop star (Russell) and the silent, Chaplin-like oddball (Ron) have contributed to this, but so too has their melodic exoticism. The latter is something they share with French deviant-pop duo Les Rita Mitsouko.
Formed in 1979 when would-be singer Catherine Ringer met guitarist Fred Chichin, Les Rita Mitsouko were clearly influenced by Sparks, as well as French, South American and Arabic music. Ringer – a former dancer and an actress in adult films while under the influence of a former lover she subsequently described as “a pervert” – added a surreal, wailing vocal edge to the band’s sound that bucked the increasing traditionalism of electro-pop.
In France Les Rita Mitsouko became unlikely pop stars thanks to hit singles such as Marcia Baila and C’est Comme Ça, the video for the latter being directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino. Their albums meanwhile proved to be troves of sophisticated, adventurous music with noted highlights including 1986’s The No Comprendo (produced by Tony Visconti, the sessions for which were documented by Jean Luc Godard in the feature film Soigne Ta Droite and 2000’s Cool Frénésie (which saw Killing Joke’s Youth collaborate on two tracks). Their seventh album, 2007’s Variéty, would be their last, Chichin succumbing to cancer at the age of 53, but their legacy remains considerable.
The esteem in which they were held by fellow musicians is exemplified by the fact that System Of A Down’s Serj Tankian appeared on their final album, and Iggy Pop guested on 1993’s Système D to duet with Ringer on My Love Is Bad.
Their greatest collaboration, however, remains with Sparks on Singing In The Shower.
Written by the Mael brothers and one of three tracks which they recorded for Les Rita Mitsouko’s third album, 1988’s Marc & Robert, it underlines the affinity between the four participants. The video – directed by Tim Pope (famed for his work with the Banshees, Soft Cell and The Cure) – is literal in its interpretation although Ringer’s fully-clothed shower scene with Russell is decidedly un-sensual, while Chichin and Ron rock out in their own surreal way in a neighbouring bathroom. The effect is both playful and yet sinister. How very Sparks. How very Mitsouko…
Sparks tour the UK starting on November 24 at London’s Union Chapel.
NOVEMBER 2013 24 London - Union Chapel 25 Glasgow - Arches 27 Bristol - Academy
DECEMBER 2013 01 & 02 London - Union Chapel 04 Paris - Alhambra
Sparks will also be performing songs at a tribute to Marc Moulin, “Flagey Celebrates Marc Moulin”, in Brussels on November 20th.