Sound: Sparta formed on the ruins of once potential rock band called At The Drive-In. When the guys broke up in 2001, Jim Ward (vocals/guitar), Paul Hinojos (guitar) and Tony Hajjar (drums) quickly picked up a name Sparta and started performing punk-inspired shows under it with bassist Matt Miller joining in a few months. It didn't take them long to sign a deal with a record label and the band produced two quite successful LPs over three years. They started recording their third album Threes in January 2005 while still being on tour to support their previous album Porcelain. But due to the problems with the record label and the lost of one member it took them a year and a half to finish it. Threes, out on the 24th October, shows us a renewed Sparta -- with a new guitarist Keeley Davis and a new record label Hollywood Records.
Working on Threes, the band made a decision to ignore all the rules and just made the songs they liked. The record turned out to be quite impulsive and emotional. You can never guess when it's going to explode or break up. Quiet tearful parts are mixed with aggressive, loud, storming ones. A lot of tracks are like a catastrophe -- trashing drums, distorted guitars and yelling vocals and at the same time the songs are very melodic. Bombing guitars are layered one upon another with killer guitar lines on top of that. It's obvious the band is evolving and their third record is a lot different than their debut. There are only a couple tracks that would remind you of Sparta's punk past (like False Start). Threes is more about hard-core and emo with a little bit of alternative rock mixed in.
A lot of tracks are using the same formula emo bands adore -- peaceful verses and loud choruses. Like the opener Untreatable Disease that gives you a clear idea of what it's gonna be like for the next 50 minutes.
Indie ballad Erase It Again is a lighter track, compared to the rest of the album. It features a very U2-ish guitars and vocals. Where The Streets Have No Name was probably the prototype of the song. Red. Right. Return has a catchy chorus with the same melody line being repeated at least six times within one try. At the end it's hard not to be remember it. The Most Vicious Crime has a beautiful grand piano that creates intimacy at the end of the song.
In spite of it's emo side, the music is energetic and you won't get bored even if you're not a huge emo fan. // 8
Lyrics: Vocalist Jim Ward admits Sparta were influenced by Radiohead recording Threes. In the softer parts of the songs you can hear Tom York in Ward's vocals -- they are delicate and gentle, singing every note with care. In the more intense tracks Ward's making sounds similar to a howl of a wounded animal, while telling us about all the depressive stuff. He's got a good vocal range, which is a great opportunity to sing anywhere the song takes you, not where you can reach. Whatever it is he is singing, it's always very passionate. Keeley Davis has not only been a great find for a guitar player, he also presents some choral multiplied back vocals, not always audible though. The closer Translation has Merry Clayton back vocals, performing some soul-music exercises, for more intense at the end. Clayton's impressive singing is worth to be listened to even without accompaniment, but is given a very modest role here being covered by guitars. // 8
Overall Impression: The atmosphere of the album is pretty gloomy, it's definitely not a record to cheer you up. It's about suffering, struggling through and the emotional pain. Sparta made every song individual, generous for different guitar and computer effects to color it. Overall it sounds very organic in spite of all the different things thrown in the mix.
The guys worked hard on the record -- they wrote almost 30 songs just to pick up 12 of them worth to make an album. Thus Threes is solid from the beginning to the end and is the most impressive Sparta release up to date. It deserves at least to be given a try; weather you'll like it or not is a matter of taste. // 8
- Kosh (c) 2006