Mysteriously ageless, energised and sharp-witted even as they enter their seventies, Ron and Russell Mael have engineered an impressive career resurgence in recent years.
Their 2015 supergroup partnership with Franz Ferdinand, FFS, boosted their profile and critical kudos, their 2017 album Hippopotamus earned the duo rapturous reviews and their first UK Top 10 for decades.
With a new major-label deal and a big-screen musical collaboration with cult director Leos Carax, Annette, due soon, the brothers continue playing to their strengths with their twenty-fourth studio album, once again self-consciously drawing on their classic glam-pop sound while pushing deeper into avant-cabaret and experimental art-rock territory.
Witty, literate, cultured lyrics remain a signature Sparks forte, with an enduring penchant for Europhile and Anglophile references that hark back to the duo’s breakthrough period as LA exiles in early70s London.
Droll one-liners abound here, with allusions to BAFTA awards, Land Rovers, Parisian streets and Russian composers. Whatever their glam-era roots, the Maels belong to a richer American lyrical lineage that takes in Dorothy Parker, Tom Lehrer and Stephen Sondheim.
There are echoes of the duo’s Franz Ferdinand flirtation on I’m Toast, an urgent glammy stomper stacked with baroque harmonies and panic-stricken quips. The superbly titled Please Don’t Fuck Up Our World is an eco-anthem with a difference, with a children’s choir delivering its hilariously vague tree-hugging message: ‘Rivers, mountains, and seas/No one knows what they’re there for…’ Greta Thunberg should adopt this gloriously sweary nursery rhyme as her theme tune, if only to rile her gammon-faced haters even more.
The latest in a series of high-culture name-drop tunes, Stravinsky’s Only Hit is a counter-factual fantasia about the fêted Russian composer becoming a debauched playboy pop star, all couched in abrasively art-funk that acknowledges Stravinsky’s own modernist legacy, Existential Threat is thrillingly wonky speed-punk operetta.
As ever with latter-day Sparks albums, the relentless archness and machine-gun wordplay feels slightly airless and shrill at times. Onomato Pia is essentially an overextended pun, Lawnmower more riffy lyrical loop than fully rounded song. But even if quality levels wobble in places, A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip is still a heartening example of a truly original band who continue to enjoy success on their own unique terms by refining and amplifying their youthful weirdness instead of mellowing with age.