Sparks Still Ignite with 'A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip'

Photo: Anna Webber / Courtesy of Big Hassle Media

After nearly 50 years and two dozen albums, Sparks continue their reign of resonantly quirky art pop-rock delights on A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip.

A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip


15 May 2020

Starting in the very early 1970s, Los Angeles sibling duo Sparks—vocalist Russell Mael and keyboardist Ron Mael—have almost always dominated as a delightfully unusual yet highly intellectual art-rock/art-pop troupe. With help from many other musicians along the way, the pair soar with a beloved balance of appealing hooks, ingenious arrangements, and humorously salient lyricism. Be they older hits like "Here in Heaven" and "This Town Ain't Big Enough for the Both of Us", or newer gems like the discerningly dramatic "Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)" (from 2017's Hippopotamus, their first new LP in nearly a decade), the band just never seem to lose their, well, spark.

Thankfully, that holds true on their 24th studio record, A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip. Arguably a tad more downtrodden and straightforward than its predecessor, the album is yet another remarkable testament to Sparks' enduring appeal and quality.

Although the group are known for their upbeat peculiarities, they're also quite adept at crafting more serious and emotional material. Case in point: opener "All That", a commanding and catchy anthem whose initial influx of horns and echoey chants foreshadows its peppy core. Along the way, acoustic guitar strums, handclaps, strings, harpsichord accentuations, and more complement Mael's trademark fragile Shakespearean resolve. While it's a fairly normal structure, it's nonetheless a gripping way to begin, as it demonstrates how well they can still fuse emotionality and eccentricity.

Likewise, "Pacific Standard Time" is a solemn synthpop trek with both retro 1980s techniques and a modern sheen, whereas "Left Out in the Crowd" is quite malleable, as its coldly tropical vibe incorporates programmed percussion, morose electric piano chords, and stark high-pitched harmonies. Later, "One of the Ages" is more direct and classical before the surreally soothing "Nothing Travels Faster Than the Speed of Light" and the earnestly orchestral finale, "Please Don't Fuck Up My World". Its use of a childlike choir is a particularly effective touch, too.

Elsewhere, the Mael's have a bit more fun and force. For instance, "I'm Toast" is a playful rocker with heavy guitar riffs and purposefully stilted phrasing (a la Joan Jett), while "Sainthood Is Not in Your Future" is very bouncy in-between Mael's isolated declarations. Of course, "Stravinsky's Only Hit" perfectly showcases their knack for historical/literary allusions and fittingly inventive scores, just as the histrionic "Self-Effacing" is packed with amusingly meditative poeticisms and rhymes.

Obviously, "Onomata Pia" carries that torch, but with a stronger focus on lighter arrangements, trickier melodic lines, and intersecting vocals. There's also the witty, pressing, and dissonant "iPhone", whose blunt central call for action—"Put your fucking iPhone down / And listen to me"—is far from a pioneering social commentary. Yet, the piece is a targeted disgruntlement as only Sparks could deliver. In contrast, "The Existential Threat" is quick and quirky from start to finish, as if you're stuck in the middle of a theatrical alien celebration.

Where A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip ranks alongside is nearly two dozen predecessors is anyone's guess. Still, there's no doubt that it's another wildly thought-provoking, fun, and wholly distinctive venture. Remarkably—and contrary to most artists who've been around this long—neither brother seems to have lost much, if any, of their original specialties and capabilities. Rather, Russell sounds virtually identical to how he did in the 1970s, and Ron is still coming up with wonderfully proficient yet madcap instrumentation and diversions. Thus, it's as clear as ever that even if the duo weren't bonded by blood, they'd be made for each other.







A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.


Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.


Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.


HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.


Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.


Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.


'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.


DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.


JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.


​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.


Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times


Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.


How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.


Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.


Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.