Hailing from California, Sparks are back with their first album in eight years; ‘Hippopotamus’. Though brothers Ron and Russell Mael have been far from absent from the music scene, having teamed up with Scottish indie-rockers Franz Ferdinand in 2015 to form the super group F.F.S, releasing an album of the same name and touring it extensively across the UK and Europe; a tour that included a headline slot on Glastonbury’s legendary John Peel stage. After much success, the bands have gone their seperate ways (for now) and back in March, Sparks debuted three tracks from their new album during their headline set at the 6 Music Festival in Glasgow.
The album opens with the short and sweet ‘Probably Nothing’; a classic Sparks track inclusive of both witty lyrics and beautifully delicate piano. The pace is then quickened for the tongue in cheek ‘Missionary Position’, which sees the infectiously catchy side of Sparks that we know and love – a side that’s also prominent in ‘Giddy Giddy’. Demonstrating exactly what Sparks are about, ‘Giddy Giddy’ is a whirlwind of organised chaos, with the comedic value of Russell conversing with himself about being the “epitome of giddiness”. complete with a haunting piano riff from Ron.
Upon the first listen, it’s no surprise at all to find that ‘Hippopotamus’ is an adventurous album, as we see the Mael’s flip from their pop nature to funk on a couple of the tracks – ‘Scandinavian Design’ thrives on the funky bass that runs through it and quirky percussive effects that echo those used by trumpet and drums duo, Spaceheads. With its tambourine groove, ‘Unaware’ is another track with an element of funk to it, possessing an interesting contrast between the heaviness of its drumbeat and scuzzy electric guitar licks to the calmer nature of the lyrics, regarding a blissful unawareness of the goings on of the world.
In the run up to the album’s release on 8th September 2017, Sparks released three singles from the album ;‘Hippopotamus’, ‘What The Hell Is It This Time?‘ and ‘Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)’, with the latter being accompanied by a breathtaking video, created by animation and puppetry Director Joseph Wallace. It’s not unusual to find that the preceding singles from a bands album end up being the stand out tracks, though this far from the case with ‘Hippopotamus’, with ‘The Amazing Mr Repeat’ and the harmonious ‘Bummer’ matching the quirky, lively beats that all three singles offer. Not many bands can reference Edith Piaf in such a spectacular fashion and Sparks continue their French theme with ‘When You’re A French Director’; a track that sounds instantaneously triumphant and features a cameo by collaborator Leos Carax (director of Holy Motors).
The album comes to an almighty end with ‘Life With The Macbeths’; a duet between Russell and Rebecca Sjowal that showcases the bands wealth of experience, responsible for such a dynamically creative and bold release. ‘Hippopotamus’ is the twenty fourth album from the Mael’s and though it’s completely different to every release that’s preceded it, it doesn’t leave the crazy, mixed up Sparks world that we’ve all fallen in love with.
‘Hippopotamus’ is out now via BMG. The albums full track listing is as follows…
01. Probably Nothing
02. Missionary Position
03. Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)
04. Scandinavian Design
05. Giddy Giddy
06. What the Hell Is It This Time?
10. I Wish You Were Fun
11. So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside From That How Was the Play?
12. When You’re a French Director
13. Amazing Mr. Repeat
14. A Little Bit Like Fun
15. Life with the Macbeths