Once an absolutely amazing band Sparks have been pretty much smooth sailing through the last decade of their career with the sort of quirky operatic nursery rhyme-like compositions exemplified by 'Hippopotamus' the lead track from this their latest opus. Strangely for such an odd band they are much loved by 6 Music. It's fair to say that if this were by a new band it wouldn't be anywhere near the playlist. Stay odd guys.
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Everyone loves Sparks don't they? That they haven't done an all the way through brilliant album since 'Indiscreet' (1975) doesn't seem to affect them in any way. They are quirky enough and have enough good songs in their basket to keep ploughing on. They get older (Ron Mael is now an incredible 72) whilst their audience stays the same age. They can even get away with an awful collaboration with Franz Ferdinand (FFS) and yet be terminally unruinable.
This latest opus (just their 25th album) is a lot more like the Sparks I know and love than the heavy handed racket of FFS. It's true though that Sparks need younger people around them to keep their vitality and this shows in typically operatic rockers such as 'Missionary Position' and 'Edith Piaf' which blend the Mael brothers classical overtones with the power of a sweating rock band. Russell Mael's voice is as swooping as ever and like his face shows utterly no signs of ageing. Sparks have at times over the last decade headed too far into inconsequential ditties. Songs such as 'Giddy Giddy' and the title track are seeming attempts to remind They Might Be Giants who did it first and 'What The Hell Is It This Time?' is one of those plodders struggling through the nod and wink of the sung title. But over 15 tracks and in their 45th year it would be greedy to ask for there to be no filler.
There's enough here to satisfy even the most nitpicking fan. Sparks have reined in some of their more left of the dial classical influences and blended them with the impossibly tuneful caterwauling music they produced in the early to mid '70s and seem to be strangely ageless. Appreciate them while they are still around. Hard to think of a band so far into their career who continue to produce the goods.
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- Hippopotamus by Sparks
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