Published May 12, 2020Never chartbusters, Sparks' 2017 album Hippopotamus unexpectedly debuted in the UK Top 10, evidence that innovative, operatic glam never goes out of style: music that you can dance to, indeed.
When Sparks released their first album, Carole King's Tapestry was at No. 1; as A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip is released digitally (physical copies are pandemically pushed to July) it is YoungBoy Never Broke Again, DaBaby and the Weeknd topping charts. Sparks provide a conduit between decades of introspection, dance and rhythm. Russell Mael is one of rock's great singers, bringing his instantly recognizable, elastic falsetto voice to chief songwriting brother Ron's imaginative creations.
Sparks have continually evolved. From a bangin' five-piece to disco warriors within a rock 'n' roll world, and hi-NRG novelty-loving nerds expounding keen intelligence within discordant melodies and inventive singalong choruses, they returned to a full-group alignment for Hippopotamus.
To the uninitiated, A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip may be challenging — hardly surprising given current musical flavours and the idiosyncratic turns Sparks continue to navigate. However, unlike other brother combos — the Gallaghers, Davies, and Louvins, to name a few — the Maels have always presented stable and unified artistic endeavors, entirely appealing to the attuned.
"Please Don't Fuck Up My World" and "iPhone" reflect society pushed to breaking points: our narrator has reached the limit of patience. Fans of the mundane — frequently revisited within the Sparks oeuvre ("Missionary Position," "Moustache," "Madonna") — will appreciate the suburban pride of "Lawnmower" and the fractious "iPhone" ("Put down your fucking iPhone and listen to me!").
Ron Mael's lyrics consistently contain pointed wit, but across the breadth of A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip, barbs are less piercing than previously. "All That," "One for the Ages," and "Onomata Pia" ("Pia had a real communication flair") are orchestrated pop extravaganzas, distinct as ever in 2020. "Self-Effacing" and "I'm Toast" aim at a favourite target: himself.
"Left Out in the Cold" (complete with Winnipeg namecheck) and "Existential Threat" speak to societal isolation, a subject familiar to these oft-relegated veterans of the popular music wars. "Please Don't Fuck Up My World" builds on 1974's "Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth."
Two-dozen albums in, Sparks provide pleasing surprises. Unquestionably, A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip is one of their most dynamic — and strongest — efforts. (BMG)