Sparks - Hippopotamus album review

Likeable, hook-laden return from the Mael Brothers

Sparks - Hippopotamus album artwork

Why you can trust Louder Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

Of late, Russell and Ron Mael have hooked up with arty indie rockers Franz Ferdinand in the supergroup FFS, while their last album as Sparks, 2009’s The Seduction Of Ingmar Bergman, was a weird, convincing, long-form concept piece. They’re back in more accessible mode on their 23rd record, and are on typically catchy, camp and funny form (Missionary Position, Edith Piaf Said It Better Than Me, What The Hell Is It This Time?). There’s a fuzzguitar psych twist to Unaware, the urgent Bummer has a deceptively complicated vocal arrangement, and the brothers are at their most delicately waspish on I Wish You Were Fun. Across a substantial 15-track album, Russell’s unmistakable voice straddles the opera house and the music hall, while Ron’s pianism remains subtly world-class. Sparks’ quirkiness is great, but can also grate: the hip-hop flavoured Giddy Giddy is silly silly, Scandinavian Design outlives its welcome, and When You’re A French Director is a whimsical waltz too far. But it’s nice to know there’s a corner of the musical world where it’s fine to rhyme ‘hippopotamus’ with ‘painting by Hieronymus’, or to write a brilliant song then christen it So Tell Me Mrs Lincoln Aside From That How Was The Play.

Grant Moon is the News Editor for Prog and has been a contributor to the magazine since its launch in 2009. A music journalist for over 20 years, Grant writes regularly for titles including Classic Rock and Total Guitar, and his CV also includes stints as a radio producer/presenter and podcast host. His first book, 'Big Big Train - Between The Lines', is out now through Kingmaker Publishing.