Sparks: Hippopotamus review – Ron and Russell Mael at their arch-pop best

(BMG)

In their 45-year career, Ron and Russell Mael have pulled off everything from Morrissey-favoured operatic glam rock to Giorgio Moroder-produced electronic disco (the wonderful The Number One Song in Heaven) to the FFS collaboration with Franz Ferdinand. The band’s 23rd studio album surprisingly echoes their stomping guitar/drums heyday, when Russell’s gale-force falsetto and keyboard player Ron’s otherworldly lopsided grins to the Top of the Pops camera caused small children to peer from behind the sofa. However, while Missionary Position sounds like retooled classic Sparks, the Los Angeles brothers are still forging into new areas. For all their trademark arch, witty and knowingly off-kilter pop, there is a new emotional heft to songs such as the lovely Probably Nothing, which delicately tackles the difficult subject of age-related memory loss. I Wish You Were Fun is one of the simplest, sweetest-sounding songs of their career. For anyone yet to experience the Maels’s unique charms, their best album in decades is as good as any place to start.

Contributor

Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Sparks’s Hippopotamus: the Mael brothers return with a piscine nightmare
Also this week: Rag’n’Bone Man is back with his cod-soul basics range and Iggy Azalea is still twerking, for some reason

Gavin Haynes

14, Apr, 2017 @1:00 PM

Article image
FFS: FFS review – Franz Ferdinand and Sparks take ridiculously entertaining off-road adventure
The Scottish rockers hitch a ride with the Mael brothers for a collaborative album that is far more than a conceptual gag

Alexis Petridis

04, Jun, 2015 @2:01 PM

Article image
Annette review – Adam Driver magnificent in wild Sparks musical
Driver and Marion Cotillard brim with nervous energy in this bizarre musical collaboration between Leos Carax and the Sparks brothers, which kicks off this year’s film festival

Peter Bradshaw

06, Jul, 2021 @7:45 PM

Article image
Franz and Sparks: this town is big enough for both of us
Franz Ferdinand and Sparks represent art-pop over different generations. But, spliced together as FFS, they’re harking back to a time when the charts were properly weird

Paul Lester

11, Jun, 2015 @3:49 PM

Article image
The Sparks Brothers review – Edgar Wright’s giddy tribute to the Gilbert and George of pop
The fanboy director’s exhaustive doc follows Ron and Russell Mael over their 50-year career as pop’s great arch humorists

Peter Bradshaw

29, Jul, 2021 @6:00 AM

You've got Mael

Sparks continue to fly, says Dave Simpson

Dave Simpson

10, Apr, 2008 @11:24 PM

Article image
Sparks musical with Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard to open Cannes film festival
Written by Ron and Russell Mael and set in Los Angeles, Annette is the first English-language film by Holy Motors director Leos Carax

Andrew Pulver

19, Apr, 2021 @11:20 AM

Article image
Sparks review – return of the kooks in kimonos
Ron and Russell Mael revisit their glam-era glory days with a sumptuous celebration of the landmark Kimono My House album, writes Mark Beaumont

Mark Beaumont

21, Dec, 2014 @1:01 PM

Article image
Sparks webchat – your questions answered on Morrissey, moustaches and pre-concert rituals
The Mael brothers talk about how British bands write the best lyrics, working with Tony Visconti and their hardest songs to sing

23, Aug, 2017 @1:20 PM

Article image
Marillion: Fear review – prog veterans' best album in 20 years

Tim Hall

22, Sep, 2016 @9:45 PM