Sparks, A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip

The pandemic turned everything upside down: besides face masks and Zoom mutes, Sparks was back on the charts in what feels like the first time in decades. There's even a movie out about them. Did greater America finally rediscover these two after all those years quietly keeping their corner of L.A. weird? Twenty-four albums and fifty years later Russ Mael's range is down a storey or six and Ron's glasses are a bit thicker, but the production's better than ever and the wit still doesn't quit, and they've wisely moved away from their less approachable chamber music days to something, yes, closer to their last chart success of the 1980s. That doesn't mean they've gotten artistically lazy, mind you: "Lawnmower" feels like a zippier earworm version of "Suburban Homeboy" in all the right ways, I like the splash of insincerity in "All That" and the thinly disguised indictment of modern disinformation in "Nothing Travels Faster Than the Speed of Light," and solid pop grooves keep it moving like "Left Out in the Cold" and "One for the Ages." Not everything fires on all cylinders, such as the lurching beat and opaque lyrics of "Sainthood Is Not In Your Future," and "Stravinsky's Only Hit" is high-quality but hard to follow, while their other attempts at topicality ("iPhone" and closer "Please Don't F--k Up My World") are a bit too hamfisted to fully enjoy. Stiil, they make up for it with other entrancing tracks like "Self-Effacing," a wacky anthem of the excessively modest (lyrical highlights: "I'm not the guy who says 'I'm the guy'" and "Thank you but Autotune has been used/used and perhaps a trifle abused"), fabulous humour-infested throwbacks to their zany 70s output in "Onomato Pia" and "The Existential Threat" (a prescient COVID commentary?) and my favourite "Pacific Standard Time," a luxurious buffet for the ears that simultaneously mocks and celebrates the superficiality of southern California in devilish equal measure. Meanwhile, they're recording another album and they're actually going to tour in 2022. I, for one, blame the Delta variant. (Content: F-bombs in "iPhone" and obviously "Please Don't F--k Up My World.")