Sparta
Threes
2006
C-



one reason that OutKast hasn’t broken up? Big Boi knows that there's a 100% chance that it will play out like the dissolution of At The Drive-In. Andre will play the Mars Volta role, taking his experimental side to its most wigged-out and unlistenable extreme, proving that there's always an audience for proggy weirdness with major label backing. Meanwhile, Daddy Fat Sacks, aka Lucious Leftfoot, gets to be Sparta, plugging away to smaller crowds with a substantially less interesting version of his former group.

Sparta probably hoped that by their aptly titled third album, they wouldn't have to see Mars Volta mentioned in every one of their reviews, especially when the reverse is rarely the case. But it's in their best interest from a PR standpoint: without their lineage, most critics would likely ignore Sparta altogether. Melodic without being hooky, hard without being heavy, and faceless without being disposable (because disposable implies usage), Sparta is the platonic ideal for an opening band. They're resolutely professional and stand no chance of stealing thunder from artists divisive enough to be loved.

Threes is their most average album yet, sounding similar to their two previous full-lengths but lacking the confrontational loudness of Wiretap Scars or the precision of Porcelain. It might as well show up to radio stations in a brown paper bag labeled "modern rock songs." I guess you could call them a "tight" band, but they sound less like artists than they do cogs in a machine. One guitarist gets the top three strings to play widdly delay pedal riffs while the other gets the bottom to chug away at will. The rhythm section keeps impeccable time and does little else, which probably goes a long way towards explaining why ex-bassist Paul Hinojos was playing on Amputechture instead of his third Sparta album. Above it all, Jim Ward wails gamely, but his lyrics wouldn't be any less standoffish if they were in Hopelandic. It's all very disciplined and physical, sort of like doing pushups, with Sparta always stopping short of getting in your face and making you pump out that last set.

Like most resistance exercises, it all comes down to "why"? Why does the melody to "Untreatable Disease" veer off in the wrong direction? Why can't the stiff rock moves of "Taking Back Control" start a minor food fight when it's presumably about exercising self-empowerment? Why does the MOR stroll of "Erase It Again" prove that nearly all emo bands sound like U2 when they try to be pretty? When "Atlas" tries to offer a cheap "Fake Plastic Trees" contact buzz, why are the "quiet" parts the same volume as the loud parts?

Threes, to its immense credit, makes you reevaluate what bad music really is; while Mars Volta's X-treme guitar decathlons are less pleasant to listen to, they play with a conviction that has won them a sizable amount of diehards. Sparta plays a quirk-deficient, Spartan (obviously) brand of rock that follows in the tradition of emotionally inert, drill-instructor metal groups like Helmet or Rollins Band. Only they've never written a riff as punishing as "Unsung" or something as strangely indelible as "Liar." Considering that Sparta claims they went into the making of Threes trying to reevaluate what it meant to be in a band, I seriously doubt they ever will.



Reviewed by: Ian Cohen
Reviewed on: 2006-10-24
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