A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip
In the fall of 2017, I finally got to fulfill a dream that I have held dear since my early teens of seeing Sparks in their homeland of Los Angeles.
It was a logistical/musical desire that started in me after attending a screening of Allan Arkush’s wildly anarchic 1983 feature, Get Crazy, in which Sparks wrote the title cut for the soundtrack. Though Sparks don’t perform during the massive New Year’s Eve concert that is the center of the film, I have always equated Russell and Ron Mael’s music with the frenzy that Arkush’s film delivers scene after scene, and shortly after that fateful dollar theater experience during the Reagan administration, I did indeed pick up the Get Crazy soundtrack.
Unfortunately, as there was only one tune from Sparks on the album, the younger me was forced in the coming years to track down most of what the brothers Mael had released before and after Get Crazy to add to my appreciation of their talents. Throughout my adultness and prior to October of 2017, I saw Sparks perform in various cities, but that only fueled my desire to see them even more once I moved to L.A, and so, after decades of internal hype, they did not disappoint that fall night as the packed house at the El Rey was more than ready for them and they responded in kind. The band was supporting their newest record at the time, Hippopotamus, and their set included a few songs from that exceptional effort, as well as more than a few of my favorites from their career, which was more than I could have ever wanted. One final note about that show in 2017…seeing them in the same theater on the Miracle Mile that begins the 1980s post-apocalyptic film, Night Of The Comet, added to the epic L.A.ness of that evening, and so, even if I had been attacked after the Sparks show by some mutant or by Lee Ving from Fear in the El Rey alley or in front of The Wiltern, up Wilshire Boulevard, where Get Crazy was filmed, it couldn’t have been a more perfect adolescent dream come true for this fan.
As you probably can discern from my opening remarks, I adore all manifestations of Sparks and cinema in general (I normally write film reviews for Ink 19), and prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, this was to be the year for Sparks on the big screen. Their long-awaited collaboration with legendary director Leos Carax, Annette, starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, was to premiere at the cancelled Cannes Film Festival this past week. Carax, who had previously utilized Sparks’ “How Are You Getting Home?” in his universally acclaimed 2012 feature, Holy Motors, has directed the musical Annette after receiving the story and music from the Maels some eight years ago. Furthermore, as if having a musical directed by Leos Carax from their original music wasn’t enough silver screen news for Russell and Ron for 2020, director Edgar Wright of Shaun of The Dead and Baby Driver fame, is in post production on a Sparks documentary that will hopefully be released in theaters when the world goes back to something resembling normal. In the meantime, I guess the only consolation for Sparks fans like myself is the opportunity to feast on their exceptional new album, A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip.
In terms of timing, the overall sonic, bright, dynamic mood of A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip, as opposed to fairly dark notes of the last record, Hippopotamus, are so very much welcomed given the last few months of pandemic sequestration. Lyrically of course, Sparks continue on the new album to aim the spotlight of their miseries back on themselves beginning with “All That,” a song that couples the sounds of multiple thick acoustic guitars and a brave vocal chorus with the story of a very doomed failed relationship. The rifftastic intro of “I’m Toast” leads to some grim poetic imagery in which their hero falls to their doom while only being able to cry out in vain to their personal assistant without opposable thumbs, Alexa. “Self-Effacing” has Sparks resigned to a grocery-list amount of downplaying everything in their protagonist’s life, be it their bland clothes, or their unmovable and unwanted DNA structure. And, never has knocking one’s identity down a few pegs been a more entertaining endeavour than with “Self-Effacing.”
The joyous, poppy melody of “Lawnmower” gives way to lines which define the same level of monotonous suburban misery contained within in the words sung by The Monkees’ equally ironically poppy, “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” With this track, Sparks, who never shy away from pointing out the humdrum, also seem to appreciate the small world jealousy that comes from owning a superior outdoor tool, and, as someone who recently purchased and returned their first ever reel lawn mower, you know the kind that doesn’t actually use gas that grandpa pushed around the yard, I now fully understand the profound level of envy that forms within you while shoving a hand held instrument of grass torture while observing posher neighbours glide by smiling, mounted on their outrageously awesome rider mowers. Curse their non-strenuous mowing! There, I feel better now. Thanks Sparks for dredging up those emotions and for this outstanding, enviable music video
“Pacific Standard Time” is that perfect sort of tongue-in-cheek ode to all things natural and unnatural in California, which Sparks are more than qualified to touch upon in detail. “iPhone” and “Please Don’t Fuck Up My World” are excellent companion pieces to “PST,” in that the Maels lyrically continue to look outside of the parameters of their own day to day lives to cut deeper into societal woes of the population who have no desire to pick up their heads for even a moment to witness, contextualize, or dare to try to better the situations on the planet they call home. Equally critical, but more personal is “Left Out In The Cold.” With its guitar strumming upbeat melody and downbeat disposition, this number would be a perfect soundtrack fit for a modern-day Guy Maddin-directed yarn about a bankrupt man who spends his days working in lonely isolation while regretting his lost fortunes to the wheel in the capital city of Manitoba. “One For The Ages” has its center on another beleaguered worker, an accountant by day, who dreams of posthumous notoriety from the worldwide appreciation of his magnum opus. And speaking of fame, one’s mind boggles as to who the pugilistic focus is of the record’s “Sainthood Is Not In Your Future?” Clearly, some British acting giant has lost their chances for a heavenly outcome due to their need to throw a right hand or two.
Finally, perhaps it is these dark last few months which have influenced my choice of “Onomato Pia,” as my favorite composition from A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip. It is that wonderfully extravagant, operatic three minutes of joy that you hope to find on any Sparks record. The falsetto here sets the stage before a French horn-heavy thrush punctuates the verses prior to a cascade of plucking violins and counter harmony vocals arrive to leave you dizzy. “Onomato Pia” is indeed the most cinematic selection from Sparks, the most cinematic of bands, who after almost fifty years of eclectic activity, can still thrill you by converting those grand and commonplace aspects of life into ornate musical moments that play out before you like a mile-wide sound current on the big screen.
A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip is available now for streaming and digital download and will be released on CD and vinyl on July 3, 2020.