Rock & roll, baby!!! That’s what you’ll find on Cooper Cobra, the debut EP of New York band Lily Sparks. No samples, loops, or weird electronica, just guitar-heavy, punk-influenced songs about having a good time. The tried and true formula works like a dream. The instrumentation is tight and the range and depth of lead vocalist Niamh (pronounced “neev”) is astonishing.
The first few seconds of the opening track, “Stars,” are enough to tell you what Lily Sparks is all about: guitarists Nikki 7 and KG* showcase their guitar chops on a short and sweet song with a thrumming beat, and Niamh lets loose with a devil-may-care attitude: “I don’t care what they’re saying / ’cause I’m not about to change my ways / I’m living it up till my dying day.” The refrain—“Stars, guitars, and muscle cars make me happy”—gives us an instant understanding of the band's raison d'être: celebrating life and having a ball making music. Like the best classic rock songs, the music makes such trite lyrics work. (And to be fair, there are some inventive lyrics on other songs—it's just that this one doesn't need them.)
“Let Go” has an ominous vibe, as if something rather unpleasant is about to happen. The languorous pace and chiming guitar add to the ambiance; the song is about wanting to help someone let go of the past and broaden horizons. The band returns to a more driving pace on “Walk Away,” a nostalgic but upbeat song about past love anchored by a heavy bass line. “Do you ever wonder what became of yesterday? / And all of those summers when we gave our hearts away?” Niamh asks. Soaring backing vocals on the refrain compliment her sultry tone perfectly, and the tune boasts some original images: “I go on about my days and dream about you anyway / like a ghost or a martyr, keeping watch at a grave.” The fast tempo juxtaposes with the sentiment of the lyrics, creating a memorable song.
“Where Are We Today” features a laid-back groove, strumming guitar, and drawn-out vocals. Niamh shows off her abilities, belting out the lyrics and going to the top of her range. Once again, the poetic lyrics paint atmospheric images (“Days fall to dusk now, undefined”). The song builds as it progresses, with increased instrumentation and a blistering guitar solo building a wall of sound. The album ends with the mellow “The Girls.” Ostensibly about the narrator’s weekend plans with friends, it’s really a love letter to her hometown. “Glad to be at the end of the week / now I can spend some time with my city / New York City.” Specific details add to the picture of the city and the depth of feeling: “See the moonbeams drag as the Hudson ripples by / pace as fierce as those cabbies zipping by.” Niamh has a gentle, almost maternal croon as she repeats “New York City.”
It's probably inevitable that a trio of female musicians will attract comparisons to other female and female-led acts, and reviewers have drawn parallels to Heart, 4 Non Blondes, Pat Benatar, Chrissie Hynde, and Lita Ford. While it's discouraging that a fantastic group such as Lily Sparks is automatically held up against only female musicians, one hopes their tight, hard rocking sound, wailing guitars, and hook-filled songs will grant them a place of their own in the rock world.