Sparks, that most European of American bands, has released one of their best albums nearly 50 years after their debut.
“A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip” shows brothers Ron and Russell Mael as eclectic, extravagant, inventive, melodic and theatrical as ever, preoccupying themselves with lawnmowers, the environment and life on their native West Coast, all while envisioning how an iPhone would disrupt Eden or the Gettysburg Address and fantasizing about Igor Stravinsky’s life as a pop star.
“A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip” follows in a similar vein to both its immediate predecessor — “Hippopotamus,” surely the best, if likely only, record of 2017 to tip its hat to both Mrs. Lincoln and Taylor Swift — and to many of the 22 studio albums before that one. No two tracks are alike, even when the subject matter is related.
That is the case with “I’m Toast” and “Existential Threat,” which are both understandably anxious, but the first alternates power chords with sweet vocal harmonies, while the other sounds like a klezmer band with a saxophone instead of a clarinet.
“All That,” on the other hand, is about as earnest as Sparks get, a paean to lasting love with a catchy melody that, if it went on just a little longer, could be the band’s “Hey Jude.”
“Sainthood Is Not in Your Future” sounds like a huge understatement and “One for the Ages” is about an accountant who wants to be an author.
Sometimes, music and lyrics show a natural affinity, like the angularity of the music of “Stravinsky’s Only Hit” or the youth choir on the album closer, which asks people to, ahem, not mess up our world.
“A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip” enhances Sparks’ position as the Picassos of art rock, their current resurgence proof of their irrepressible creativity and curiosity with no visible signs of slowing down, even as the brothers unsettle into their 70s.