Since their inception over 45 years ago, Sparks have always seemed more like an art project more than a proper band. And like any reputable artists, the Mael brothers have cycled through multiple periods, from British Invasion to glam rock, disco and even opera. But on Hippopotamus, their first proper album in eight years, the duo sound undeniably and perfectly like themselves.
With a whopping 15 tracks and a 55-minute runtime, the 68-year-old Russell and 72-year-old Russell sound remarkably punchy, quirky and cutting on album number 25. Although Sparks have always filled their records with idiosyncratic lyrics about the absurdities of modern life, it's great to see them match great verses (in songs like "Edith Piaf (Said it Better Than Me)," "What the Hell Is it This Time?" and "So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside From That How Was the Play?") with some of their sharpest arrangements and musicianship (courtesy of longtime guitarist Dean Menta and session drummer extraordinaire Steve Nistor).
The Mael brothers also manage to keep listeners enthralled by freely jumping between modes, moving between jaunty piano songs ("Missionary Position"), cascading layered guitar burners ("Unaware") and clever melodies and bridges ("Giddy, Giddy"). It seems unlikely that a band this far into their career would make an album as career-defining as Hippopotamus, but then, Sparks have always done things on according to their own schedule. (BMG)