The quirk-rock fraternal duo Sparks adds another album to their 20-plus record discography with A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip. This new entry does its part to provide us with more of their singular combination of specific, off-kilter lyrics and an art-rock edge. While A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip provides a few gems and some timely ones as well, it is largely the Sparks experience one expects when you go to one of their albums. Listener experience may vary based on your tolerance for clever wordplay.
The album begins strong with the near-anthemic “All That,” which finds the band and brothers Ron and Russell Mael starting things off at the very best energy level. “I’m Toast” quickly introduces a rock element with a humorous (in a Book of Job kind of way) depiction of a person who has realized far too late that the race is run. The introductory triptych concludes with “Lawnmower,” which turns the quirk dial up farther. With a continuous refrain of “la la las,” Russell Mael sings cheerily about his lawnmower and his girlfriend from Andover who gives him an ultimatum. These three songs introduce three different sides to the Sparks personality quite efficiently. “All That” brings the pop element, while “Toast” brings rock and sardonic wit to the fore, while “Lawnmower” reminds us of their playful and economic character sketches.
Their pop skills are highlighted on the best track on the album, “Pacific Standard Time.” This is a classic “life in California” song complete with the references to outsiders who don’t understand the way of life but are quickly seduced by it. The song is performed as a wistful ballad and benefits from the showcasing of a rarer, gentler side of Sparks. A similar standout, “Left Out in the Cold,” paints a charmingly pathetic picture of a man who has fallen from grace and now lives in cold Winnipeg while working for Uniqlo.
A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip is a little overstuffed, at 14 full-length tracks. The songs that feel most effortful, such as “Stravinsky’s Only Hit,” “Sainthood Is Not In Your Future,” and “Onomato Pia” weigh the album down as they stretch a whimsical concept into extended songs. By the time we reach the final set of tracks, the energy from “All That” has nearly left us.
One of those final tracks, “iPhone,” initially seems like a stale screed against distracted phone-users (the chorus of “put your fucking iPhone down and listen to me” may be the cause of that) but soon neutralizes that concept by imagining the refrain being delivered throughout history by a frustrated Adam in Eden and Lincoln at Gettysburg. “The Existential Threat” is a unique Sparks creation in that they manage to create the sound of an existential threat bearing down upon you, to which most of us can probably relate.
The final track, however, leaves us on a high. “Please Don’t Fuck Up My World” is what it sounds like, but when delivered through the straightforward and unadorned lyrics of the Mael brothers, this “do the right thing” song doesn’t feel treacle sweet. They say exactly what they mean; such as “Rivers, mountains, and seas/ no one knows what they’re there for/ still, it’s easy to see/ that they’re things to be cared for.” However, when cloaked in the style of Sparks, these words sound meaningful. Throughout A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip, performance is critical for your enjoyment of a track. The Mael brothers are undoubtedly talented, and the moments when they stop proving to us that they are so are moments when their songs can naturally unfold and flourish.