Sparks – Hippopotamus album review
Songs about sex and about Scandinavian design. Songs about The Macbeths and about Edith Piaf. Yep, the Mael
brothers are back, and as delightfully oddball as ever.
If you were wondering whether, after 45 years, Sparks had lost any of their eccentric idiosyncrasy, worry no more.
Instead, wrap your head around the title of one of their 25th album’s highlights, So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside From That How Was The Play? Apart from its flirtation with bad taste, it’s a classic indication of the Maels’ warped sense of humour.
Of course, any album cover featuring the artists eyeing a partially submerged hippopotamus in a swimming pool is unlikely to take itself seriously… If it does, it’s surely doomed. That the title song’s accompaniment features pizzicato strings and oom-pahpah brass, and playfully lists other random objects joining the hippo – among them “a painting by Hieronymous Bosch…/ Must be a late work” and “Titus Andronicus, wearing a snorkel” – underlines this.
There are endless guffaws to be had elsewhere. Missionary Position combines Queen and Roxy Music before admitting: “The acrobats, well, they tend to scoff/ All you know is that you can get her off”, and then there’s the priapic The Amazing Mr. Repeat, which stays just the right side of puerile. On the sometimes Todd Rundgren-esque, briefly baroque Scandinavian Design, meanwhile, the protagonist brushes off his partner’s unreliability – she: “has a job to do as some guy’s concubine” – before a gloriously elastic coda. Giddy Giddy, finds them matching an analogue drum ‘n’ bass beat with what could be lyrics written for Yo Gabba Gabba!
“Think twice before introducing it to the kids, however: while jokes come thick and fast throughout the album, the Maels have a notable melodic talent, and once you’ve heard this it’s going stick with you a while.” – Wyndham Wallace
The same’s true of I Wish You Were Fun, which recalls Harry Nilsson’s more irreverent work, and What The Hell Is It This Time?, which cranks up the guitars and strings. In fact, Hippopotamus represents everything you’ve come to love about Sparks, while demonstrating how it’s never too late to join them, if perhaps not in that hippo-infested.