Album review: Sparks - A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip

Sparks A Drip Drip Drip

Sparks A Drip Drip Drip - Credit: Archant

The art-pop veterans, now in their sixth decade as Sparks, proffer another pick’n’mix of surreal nuggets

Sparks A Drip Drip Drip

Sparks A Drip Drip Drip - Credit: Archant

The brothers Mael have been at it as Sparks for more than 50 years now; a cult, creative force that appears to exist outside of any prevailing trends – in fact, outside of time itself, indulging their own audio pantomime of high-register singing and electro high-jinks irrespective of the world outside.

Their 24th studio album isn’t short on their trademark irreverence and wilfully fractious, quasi-intellectual arrangements that subsume synth-pop, art-pop, rock, new wave, orchestral and disco and reframe them in singular style.

It starts with the stately and anthemic All That, underpinned by strummed guitar and an electronic string symphony, with lyrics reflecting on ideas of achievement and wasted time.

It’s an earworm equalled by the insistent, locomotive energy of recent single Lawnmower’s ‘La-la-la’ vocal riff, the song satirising many a Western suburbanite’s horticultural obsession.

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The record’s off-kilter arrangements are matched by its lyrical conceits: I’m Toast, which will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever felt left behind or caught out by progress, is built on a gnarly guitar riff that shifts gear in the chorus, and a plea to Amazon’s Alexa to “get me out of this place!”

The lush, grandiose instrumentation of Stravinsky’s Only Hit plays with the composer’s stylistic approach while imagining him hitting the bigtime with a pop hit – the girls, the coke, the dancefloors – then shunning it later in his career.

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Elsewhere, only a curmudgeon would fail to smile at Onomato Pia’s almost Wonka-like delight in time changes and deep, tuba parps to accompany a skipping, candy-sweet bop, while the brothers play with psych and prog conventions in Pacific Standard Time and its pervasive electro harpsichord.

Another highlight is the delicately-arranged lilt of Self-Effacing, married to lyrics of suppressed, always-the-bridesmaid frustration that’s just begging to be covered by Belle & Sebastian.

The plaintive Please Don’t F*** Up My World closes the record, eschewing absurdity for genuine concern and a political dig at the giants of industry and seats of power. Driven by piano and strings, the brothers almost undermine the sincerity of their message by introducing a children’s choir, but keep the schlock in check.

A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip is a beguiling listen – testament to endless confidence and a willingness to follow surreal ideas through to fruition.

4/5 stars

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