By DAN MACINTOSH
Sparks, the longstanding brotherly duo of Ron and Russell Mael, has been performing together since 1967. So, you’d think by now one could compare this act to other similar bands. But we can’t. Therefore, its latest full-length effort, A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip sounds like, well, a Sparks album. And quite a good one, at that.
So, for those of you that may still be new to Sparks (and shame on you, if that sentence describes you!), this Los Angeles bred act matches Ron’s smart and witty lyrics with Russell’s near-operatic lead vocals. This pair applies these unique sonic and literary elements to songs that are, more often than not, far more imaginative than most other contemporary pop songs. And this latest effort includes plenty of memorable little masterpieces.
One titled “Stravinsky’s Only Hit,” for example, imagines what it might be like if that famous Russian-born classical composer had actually recorded a hit pop song. Although this newfound and unlikely popularity brings Mr. Stravinsky plenty of adulation, the ditty just doesn’t quite fit in with all of his other respected classical pieces. Ron’s words illustrate an absurd intersection of the pop and classical realms, which are certain to make you smile. It’s silly fiction, of course, but it also reveals much truth about the fickle music business. Sadly, artists cannot decide which of their songs will become their most popular ones, and they are many times saddled with having to perform an annoying hit song night after night that may actually embarrass them. Sparks understand the disparate worlds of classical and pop music enough to get all the details to a song like this one so spot-on.
Another one titled “I’m Toast,” begins with three setup lines, then the punchline: “Started at the top/Then I took a drop/Then a further drop/Better bring a mop.” Then there’s “Self-Effacing,” which is set to a galloping groove. It may be autobiographical in part because it’s about a shyly humble guy (Ron, perhaps?). “It’s not a choice, I’m less a Rolls Royce/And more minivan, you do understand.”
The above examples feature lyrics that combine both smarts and silliness. One called “Lawnmower,” though, is silliness just for silliness’s sake. It’s all about a guy that bonds – and bonds just a little too much – with his lawnmower. He’s attached so much so, in fact, this man-machine partnering comes between this guy and his girl. She gives him an ultimatum: He must choose either her or his lawnmower. Next, she’s described as loading up the Land Rover (‘Land Rover’ being one of the few word combinations that rhyme with lawnmower).
So, he’s made his choice. Now, just why this man loves his grass cutting device so much, is never explained. This passion is not like your stereotypical midlife crisis, where a guy buys, say, a shiny new sports car. With that typical middle-aged guy and his sports car, we’re usually bored to tears with every last detail about his mean machine. Sparks doesn’t even tell us the make, model or color of this mower. Lawnmowers aren’t sexy, like Italian two-seaters, though. Nevertheless, you may find yourself singing gleefully — like a happy gardener — after listening to this one a few times.
A few of these songs include F-bombs, which is new lyrical territory for Sparks. This act’s words will never be confused with gangsta rap lyrics, of course. However, “iPhone” complains about how smartphones increasingly encroach upon our everyday life. For instance, the song imagines an iPhone coming between Adam and Eve in the garden, and one omnipresent device also frustrates Abraham Lincoln while he’s attempting to deliver the Gettysburg Address. “Please Don’t Fuck Up My World” includes that four-letter word right in its title and chorus. It even features a children’s choir cursing. This profanity is probably appropriate because it’s a serious song about saving the environment.
You’d be hard-pressed to find another 2020 album that name-drops Stravinsky, Sarte and Camus in its lyrics. Then again, you won’t find anything else that comes even close to Sparks’ special music. Don’t waste your time looking in vain for similar groups, though; just enjoy this dynamic duo’s latest gem.