❉ Ron and Russell’s latest easily holds its own against their best albums.
“Sparks have always eschewed macho rock clichés and embraced eccentricity, originality, humour and wordplay… Never a band to sell out to the masses, Sparks have stayed true to their unconventional, experimental and kooky selves. “
You have to hand it to Sparks. It’s now 46 years since the brothers Mael first hit the U.K. charts with This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us and they are still going strong. Although they have enjoyed periods of huge success in their career, it has always been sporadic. Could this be because they have always been quite difficult to categorize for mainstream audiences? They are the epitome of a ‘cult band’, enjoying a loyal, hardcore fanbase that includes the likes of Morrissey, Faith no More’s Mike Patton, Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott (who regularly plays them on his Planet Rock Radio show) and director Edgar Wright, whose film documentary on Sparks is due soon.
Sparks have always eschewed macho rock clichés and embraced eccentricity, originality, humour and wordplay. Although, at times, they have been slightly overlooked, there is no doubt how influential they have been over the years. Never a band to sell out to the masses, Sparks have stayed true to their unconventional, experimental and kooky selves. Their ethos has earned them respect from fans and peers alike.
From their 1974 albums Kimono My House and Propaganda, to their reinvention as a synthpop duo, into the 1990s and through to the present day, Sparks have been prolific and fertile, releasing great albums to varying degrees of success. Whenever an album didn’t do quite as well in the U.K., you can guarantee it was well received elsewhere in Europe. So with the Edgar Wright film likely to give the Mael brothers huge mainstream exposure, how does their new album, A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip, fare?
The single Self-Effacing is anything but. With its earworm chorus and rock guitars, it grabs you immediately and pulls you in. Onamata Pia is pure stage musical material with Russell’s camp falsetto soaring over oompah music.
The first track, the anthemic All That, jolts you with a jazzy saxophone before being replaced by a strumming acoustic guitar and handclaps. This summery, nostalgic song would have somehow felt more in place at the end of the album and you can well imagine it closing the live show. With a catchy chorus and a George Harrison-style slide guitar, it’s a joyful track for these less than joyful times.
I’m Toast is Sparks at their most New Wave/Post-punk. Featuring indie rock guitars over the top of Ron Mael’s majestic keyboard work, the track is bouncy and uplifting. With typically humorous lyrics, in a just world this track would be a Top 5 hit single.
Things get stranger with the track, Lawnmower, which somehow manages to bring to mind something Kenny Everett might’ve come up with had he been given a guest spot on Sesame Street. Again, the zany lyrics and rhyming couplets can’t help but raise a smile; “My girlfriend who’s from Andover, Andover/Is packing up the Land Rover, Land Rover/It’s me or its that lawnmower, lawnmower.”
Sainthood Is Not in Your Future is probably the most traditional sounding song on the album, sounding almost like it could’ve been a long lost outtake from Kimono My House. Stravinsky’s Only Hit is the Mael brothers at their most bombastic and orchestral. The song iPhone features some of the best lyrics on any Sparks album, followed by the most direct chorus ever: “Put your fucking iPhone down and listen to me!” Clearly a sentiment that must be communicated in so many modern relationships, it’s wonderfully constructed and relevant. This isn’t rock n’ roll music, this is absolute poetry and the album highlight for me.
Talking of modern-day relevance Please Don’t Fuck Up My World is a beautiful song, tapping into present day global frustrations. It would be so easy for such a statement to come across as twee in the hands of others but the added expletive perhaps helps to offset that and musically, it sounds like the direct ancestor of Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth.
A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip is Sparks’ strongest album for quite some time, there isn’t a single bad track on it. It’s intelligent, innovative, accessible and easily holds its own against their best albums. Considering the band is almost fifty years old, that is quite the achievement.
❉ Sparks’ new album ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’ (BMG) released 15 May 2020, on multiple formats including CD, picture disc, and cassette. Order the album HERE.
❉ David Geldard is a contributor to We Are Cult and loves Sci Fi & Horror, Doctor Who, Starburst Magazine, Stranger Things, The 60’s Avengers, Twilight Zone, The X-Files, cult movies and weird shit. He tweets as @BungleSir.