“All that we’ve done / We’ve lost / We’ve won,” sings Russell Mael on the opening track on the twenty-fourth Sparks album, ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’. ‘All That’ sets a bold, mature tone to the record , one that suggests this will be a record that you’d expect from a duo that’s been active since 1967. It is a song that betrays a sense of coming to terms with their legacy, of looking back fondly over the last 53 years.
Fortunately, Sparks are not ready to go all schmaltzy and sentimental just yet. By the second track, we’re reassuringly back in the absurdist place that Ron and Russell Mael call home: ‘I’m Toast’ is, on on one level, a song about a relationship ending, not just badly, but almost certainly catastrophically. It’s also a song about toasted bread. Like, actual toast. Who else but Sparks could pull that off?
And so it brilliantly goes. Here we find songs that might be about actors slipping messily from grace or might be asking you to take a good, long look at your own morality (‘Sainthood’s Not In Your Future’); Uniqlo winter coats (‘Left Out In The Cold’) ; a song which creates an intricately-crafted character out of phonetic imitation (‘Ono mata Pia’) ; a dose of extreme paranoia (‘Existential Threat’); and, finally, a plaintive, emotional call to look after one another (‘Please Don’t Fuck Up My World’). These are classic Sparks moments, full of comedy, clever wordplay, deft explorations of all the myriad issues of the world, with arrangements that sound as current and fresh as a dew-soaked spring daisy.
‘Lawnmower’ is the album’s highlight, a song that has pulled this writer out of self-isolation moroseness on countless occasions over the past few months, taking the improbable form of an infectious electronic pop song about a chap with a major over-attachment problem toward his grass-cutting equipment. The song has a simple, almost nursery rhyme innocence, bouncing along quite cheerily with Russell sing ing about manicuring an award-winning lawn that will be the envy of the protagonist’s neighbours. The fact that his obsession is highly likely to cost him his relationship with a girlfriend from Andover who drives a Range Rover – the rhymes on this song are utter, utter genius – doesn’t get in the way o f ‘Lawnmower’ raising a much-needed smile.
Words: Mat Smith
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