sparkle*jets u.k. – Best Of Friends – LP Review
If you are longing for some slick, accomplished, power-pop music in your life, then sparkle*jets u.k. has just the recipe for you. After more than 20 years absent from the music scene, the band has returned with a vengeance, and the results couldn’t be more positive. sparkle*jets u.k. last had an LP in 2001 with Bamboo Lounge. A single followed in 2005, Christmas in July, and then the band went dark. Most people would have given up hope for the band by now. The band, complete with their original lineup, is definitely back. The new LP, Best of Friends (releasing June 30, 2023, on Big Stir Records), is actually an epic release, consisting of 2 vinyl LPs or CDs. Mahnsanto (seen/heard here) is the second single released from the new LP, and like the rest of the tracks here, is a cover of a song by a band that sparkle*jets u.k. shared the stage with back in the 90s and early 00s. Stew & The Negro Problem released Joys & Concerns in 1999, which contained the original Mahnsanto. More than anything, this collection of music is a tribute to those power-pop bands and the sound that those times represented.
So what of the band, and what have they been up to for more than 20 years while sparkle*jets u.k. was on hiatus? After a live performance at the 2003 International Pop Overthrow Festival, the band was asked to play an encore, something the promoter of the event, David Bash, had never done before. James Knight, (bassist for the band) explains that this all felt very strange:
“The band played their encore, and then the audience kept applauding. The applause from the audience was different this time. It was as if they thought the band was breaking up, and they were giving us a thunderous round of applause reserved for a band that had done a remarkable job and was saying goodbye
to the group. However, The band never broke up, and Michael Simmons (lead and backing vocals, guitars, keyboards, and drums) Susan West (lead and backing vocals), and Jamie Knight (electric bass) remained Best Friends, and the spirit of sparkle*jets u.k. was transferred to a music program that would eventually emerge at The Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts, which is part of Huntington Beach High School.”
Jamie was the librarian at Fountain Valley High School where the students knew him as “Mr. Knight.” Knight formed the Loud Music Club at the school, and pop punk bands would rehearse after school in the library. Their first gig was a battle of the bands. At the time, Knights’ goals were altruistic. The library needed money to purchase books, so he focused the proceeds from this battle of the bands on this goal. At the time, Knight had not yet built a parent support organization to help put this together, so he enlisted Simmons to handle the technical side, West to run the box office and sell tickets, and he made sure that the whole thing ran smoothly. Student bands would compete for the Best Band title, and additional entertainment was provided by sparkle*jets u.k., Third Grade Teacher, and Kerry Kompost (featured on the Best Of Friends LP).
From these beginnings, Knight was asked to teach a Music Technology class at Huntington Beach High School. There was no technology available there, though, so Knight decided to teach the class as Rock History and enlisted Simmons to help with the class. From this, their teaching relationship was formed. Later, after a student band performance at an Apple store that was hugely successful, the two parlayed a parent donation of $5,000 into another $10,000 donation from The Academy for the Performing Arts and the missing technology for the original class got a start.
The short answer of what the band has been doing for 20-plus years, is they have been inspiring and teaching kids to learn about music. What better way to foster the next generation of pop music creators than through education?
Best Of Friends, as noted earlier, is an epic-length nod to the underground power-pop bands from nearly two decades ago. It starts off with the cover of Hold On Tight (recorded originally by Walter Clevenger & The Dairy Kings) circa 2003. The guitar and harmonies are very nice here. Lyrically, this song is about making tough times better by holding on to what you have.
He’s Coming Out is a true power-pop rocker originally recorded by The Masticators on the LP Masticate! back in 2000. This song will have you moving immediately. Susan West handles the rough and ready vocals here perfectly.
No One Rides For Free (The Andersons, 2001) continues in the same vein of power rock, while One Summer Sunday (Kerry Kompost, 2000) eases you into a leisurely Sunday afternoon. These are followed by the playful Are We There Yet? (Cosmo Topper, 2001) featuring a true pop la-la sung with no tongue in cheek-a true homage to pop of the era. I believe West and Simmons share leads on this track with West featured at the beginning and Simmons later on. This is very much the type of song that you want to sing along with.
It would be nearly impossible to cover every track and do it any sort of justice. Each one is carefully curated, played, and sung with true reverence by sparkle*jets u.k. They attempt to breathe a sense of “now” into these old songs, and mostly succeed. The material is definitely retro, but it never sounds dated here. Each track feels accessible to today’s audiences.
To be sure, Vodka has some favorites. The beautiful Battle Song (Adam Daniel, 1999) is hard to beat. The delightfully retro Good Sounds (Linus Of Hollywood, 1999) is hard to listen to without a feeling of nostalgia. In And Around Greg Lake (Wondermints, 1998) has a melody that I just can’t shake. It probably says something about me that I have gravitated to some of the oldest curated songs in this collection, but these are just accidents, I assure you. The entire collection is so worth listening to!
In all, twenty-one tracks and twenty artists or bands are represented on this double LP. Stylistically all of these tracks somehow fit together, even though they certainly represent very different approaches to the power-pop of the time.
Information and Conclusions
Like many artists that Big Stir Records represent, the best place to find information on the band and purchase Best Of Friends and their back catalog is by heading to the label-hosted website. The trio also has a Facebook page if you are into socials.
Once in a while, a band comes along with a focus on a style of music that is so beloved by them, that they can sell it to you without much effort. sparkle*jets u.k. believes in power-pop. It is in their DNA. Their love for the music that they created along with those they shared the stage with in the late 90s and early 00s is evident on Best Of Friends. Selflessly, they leave out their own material here to focus on those bands’ contributions to the genre. Who knows? The next chapter may be a release of completely new material from the band. That would be wonderful for pop music! For more than 20 years, they’ve focused their attention on educating young people in how to create and play music themselves. This incubator sets the stage for the next generations of pop music creators. What could be more worthwhile than that?
Pick up your copy of Best Of Friends (available for immediate pre-order, or purchase on June 30th) now! While you are on the label page, take a listen to the sparkle*jets u.k. back catalog and consider adding those to your collection as well.