Sparks: Hippopotamus


Well, that’s one of life’s mysteries sorted, though it’s going to cost us.

The mystery was, “what’s the point of Sparks?” Aside from their hits (This Town Ain’t Big Enough, Beat The Clock etc) we could never see past the fact that they were a bit odd – the grunty falsetto vocals, the quirky/arty tunes, the refusal to be predictable. They were just weird.

Came this new album, came the light: they’re clever, really clever, and you have to access the music via the lyrics, before the tunes.

First play-through it was the same old and “what are we going to write about these weirdos?”. Then we read the lyrics: there’s a song praising the missionary position and another lamenting the fact that it’s too late for them to sing about living fast and dying young, and Edith Piaf put it better anyway.

We looked at the Press release: it’s a comic strip about the adventures of Ron ‘n’ Russell. By the time we looked back, to the lyrics of a song about Scandinavian design, we’d got the bug. Expensive? We’re going to have to delve into their back catalogue now.

This new one opens with Probably Nothing, where the narrator tells the listener he had something to say but has now forgotten. This promising start is followed by that defence of the Missionary Position: “It’s a little bit retro and a little passé … And the acrobats, well, they tend to scoff … But the tried and true is good enough for me and you”.

Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me) is next, Ms Piaf famously regretting nowt but as for Sparks’ narrator: “Pretty song but not intended for me / Time to put some muzak on” as he ponders on the lack of smoky dives, amours (“feu or not”), petty crimes, foreign substances, midnight drives or crime bosses’ wives in his life. “Live fast and die young / Too late for that”.

In Scandinavian Design the narrator owns a table and two chairs but they are Nordic in origin and hence sufficient for a stylish life as he sleeps happily on the floor – a bed would be unnecessary clutter. His girlfriend just comes and looks at the table, that being all the stimulation a happy couple need.

The tunes are all intricate and quirky, and you know they could churn out chart-toppers if they only wanted to, they just don’t. As with The Charlatans, the presence of a review copy probably means this is their best work in a while, so worth checking out.

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