Sparks – Hippopotamus

Twenty-odd albums in, the wit and ambition that got Sparks to this point remains intact on new album Hippopotamus

Album Review by Stephen Butchard | 04 Sep 2017
  • Sparks
Album title: Hippopotamus
Artist: Sparks
Label: BMG
Release date: 8 Sep

You can hear Sparks in Morrisey’s camp yelp. You can feel them in Björk’s juvenile humour and poignant poetry. They’re all over of Montreal’s weirdo charm. They’re right there in the high-kicking swagger of Franz Ferdinand and Supertramp. When Destroyer yawns a French phrase out of the side of his mouth, that’s Sparks. The duo’s quiet influence over indie music is the largest testament to their legacy. Twenty-odd albums in, the wit and ambition that got them here is intact.

Album number 23 moves from literary jokes to Edith Piaf references, to IKEA musings, to a song that tributes the, um, the missionary position? All with the drama and spectacle you’d hope for. Hippopotamus is their proper return, following 2015’s rejuvenating Franz Ferdinand collaboration.

After nine years of solo album silence, Russell and Ron Mael have a lot to say; at nearly an hour in length, the project indulges in every way it can. If you’re a fan of the band’s oddball humour, winding piano work and hyperbolic compositions, there’s a lot to like. Songs like the title track and Giddy Giddy are among the daftest the band have ever conjured, and they’re all the better for it.

What’s painfully absent is the wild production of their early work to prop up the madness. It might be unfair for wish for the sound of a record like 1974's Kimono My House, given how much time has passed, but the sanitised sound of this album isn’t doing them any favours. What the Hell is It This Time? is driven by plastic guitars and grating mixing, while anthem-leaning cuts like A Little Bit of Fun never hit their mark thanks to flat sound design. The result is more tacky than glam. If you’re in it for the jokes, Hippopotamus is worth the effort.

Listen to: Giddy Giddy, I Wish You Were Fun