Ron and Russel Mael as Sparks have been entertaining audiences for over 50 years with a sound that it is hard to put a finger on. While never quite the household name their talent should have been, in recent years the group has had a significant cultural resurgence from their collaborative 2015 FFS album with Franz Ferdinand to The Sparks Brothers documentary from Edgar Wright and a string of acclaimed albums, earning some of the strongest reviews and highest chart positions of their career.
The group returns with their 26th studio album and their first at Island Records for almost 50 years; the label that released Kimono My House, their breakthrough record which spawned their smash hit ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both of Us’.
The Girl is Crying in Her Latte retains the unorthodox sound you’d expect from Sparks, offering plenty of variety and the sound of a group pushing boundaries in their 70s. Most bands would be happy with one well-received record but Sparks seem to put out a masterpiece almost every time.
The opening title track sets the tempo with an infectious energy that many groups a fraction of the Mael brother’s age would struggle to capture, showing they’ve lost none of their swagger. The video for the track boasts Oscar winner Cate Blanchett cutting loose, showing the appeal working with Sparks still has.
‘Veronica Lake’ has an electronic edge to it and again does not sound like something from a pair in their 70s. ‘Escalator’ could easily be taken from Sparks classics like Kimono My House or No. 1 In Heaven yet still sounding like the group’s modern iteration. It’s slower than the opening couple of tracks but still with an intriguing, off-kilter sound to it.
The wit of the Mael’s lyrics has never gone away. ‘Nothing is as Good As They Say’ is told from the perspective of a 22-hour-old baby, a preposterous premise but as with all great Sparks tracks, all the better for it and embracing its absurdity and wearing it on its sleeve.
‘You Were Meant For Me’ is a heavily electronic track that recalls the group’s work with Giorgio Moroder in the late 70s and again shows their understanding of contemporary sounds to perfection. ‘We Go Dancing’ also has a relentless rhythm to it.
There is still a wonderful, unorthodox nature to a modern Sparks record and it is to the Mael’s credit that they’ve lost none of their avant-garde tendencies and still embrace the unexpected. After the electronic dalliances in the early part of the record, the last thing listeners might expect is a blend of strings and heavier guitars on ‘Not That Well Defined’ but it sits perfectly alongside the other tracks.
‘When You Leave’ is a more out-and-out rock number, showing the record’s evolution in its second half as we shift from the more electronic sounds towards more experimentation; but every style the group embraces works wonderfully and adds a layer of mystery to proceedings.
Sparks could easily have embraced a single genre far earlier in their career, but the juxtaposition and disparate elements add to their allure. ‘Take Me For A Ride’ starts with a gorgeous woodwind introduction before building into a different beast entirely.
The Girl is Crying in Her Latte continues the extraordinary run of recent records from Sparks, sounding unlike their previous work while retaining recognisable elements. There is still, over 50 years on, a sense of radical experimentation and a reluctance to conform, which results in an exhilarating, wildly unpredictable listening experience and another standout among a pantheon of great albums. We should appreciate how lucky we are to still have Ron and Russell, having as much fun as they are here and continuing to push boundaries when many of their contemporaries have long since faded.