Spirited and Wonderfully Off-Piste
Nodding musically to their glam roots and their Franz Ferdinand collaboration, Sparks’ Hippopotamus is their latest album
Review by Andew Steel
There’s a moment on Sparks’ latest record Hippopotamus where, on the title track, Russell Mael’s lyrical contortions almost get the better of him. Over tack piano, clipped violin and jazz-inflected drums, the Californian veteran’s absurd litany of cultural non-sequiturs become increasingly surreal – his grin is practically audible amongst the wordplay, on the cusp of corpsing. It is unlikely the same could be said of brother and keyboardist Ron; one would imagine him sat alongside, the stoic, moustachioed foil to his elfin, exuberant sibling.
Almost half-a-century on from their first foray into music, the LA pair are still going strong, turning out wry art-rock earworms and eclectic soundscapes to a cult following with the panache and élan that singled them out of the glam-crowd in the first place all those years ago. Here, they assemble their typical hallmarks with an obvious relish; a propensity for mining popular culture here (Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)), an acidic commentary on the modern world there (the grizzly gothic-noir of Life With the Macbeths).
But musically, it owes more to their collaborative effort FFS with Franz Ferdinand and their glam roots than their recent output. Unaware, with its buzzing guitar and glitchy feedback, leans on late-noughties lo-fi indie, whilst I Wish You Were Fun gleams with a seventies-vaudeville sheen. It’s a pleasing return to conventional pop formation for the band, and some of its cuts are fabulously outlandish; Giddy Giddy repeats its titular phrase no less than seventy-six times whilst Missionary Position presents a boisterous manifesto for ordinary excellence in the bedroom, gleefully nudge-nudge over its Beatlesque swell of strings and falsetto innuendos, like Justin Hawkins stepping in for Jeff Lynne as helmsman of ELO. Twenty-five albums in, Sparks remain aptly deserving of their stature and name; dynamic, spirited and wonderfully off-piste.
Released by BMG www.bmg.com/uk/artist/sparks