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Find An Answer To That Question: Sparks On 'Hippopotamus' And Visual Songwriting

Wednesday, 13 September 2017 Written by Jacob Brookman

Sparks occupy a unique space in modern pop. Their new album, ‘Hippopotamus’ is their 23rd, and showcases the fundamentals of the band’s genre fusion: classically inspired songwriting shone through a prism of artful duality. It’s a kind of musical Theatre of the Absurd.

At at the record’s launch party in central London, brothers Ron and Russell Mael discussed the album’s inception, and how their work often seems heavily informed by artists from outside of pop.

“It’s strange, because we always grew up listening to pop music, but we learnt how a lot of our music sounded like Gilbert & Sullivan, and went back to investigate from that,” Ron said.

“I’ve broadened my view with listening to other things, but at the time it was like tunnel vision regarding pop music. It’s bizarre because we lived a cloistered AM radio life. We weren’t listening to other forms of music. Since then we’ve broadened our taste out of desperation, and lack of too much interesting going on.”

The Gilbert & Sullivan reference is unsurprising when listening to the new album. The title track doubles down on the joy of that particular word, creating a conceptual patchwork of soundalikes: ‘Hieronymus’ ‘Titus Andronicus’, ‘a woman with an abacus’ and so on. It’s an enjoyably silly move from a band who have always delighted in throwaway references as much as intense musicality.

“The people you mentioned, we follow their stuff - Gilbert & George as much as Gilbert & Sullivan,” Russell said. “We grew up on pop music but as time goes on, you do broaden your horizons. You see what is out there in the real world.”

And yet the real world can feel like a distant dream when listening to the band’s work. Actually, another artist one is reminded of is the filmmaker David Lynch. He's someone who, like Sparks, occupies a bit of a generic hinterland. It’s somewhere very sequential and deep, where the work's initial jumping-off point seems vastly different to the end-zone.

“That is how we work a lot,” Ron said. “You take something and you don’t know where it’s going to go. [Lynch] is probably filling in the story around him. You have the title and you try and figure out: ‘What is this about?’

"We work visually. We always feel a visual element, so you get images in your head about where this should go. Sometimes you hit a dead end, and you get depressed, but sometimes you get lucky and it all makes sense in its own way.”

“I read an interview with Lynch talking about ‘Twin Peaks’, and someone asked him what it’s all about in essence, and he just said ‘Watch it!’,” Russell added. “That’s the same way I feel with something like ‘Hippopotamus’.

“We’ve been asked what it’s about and we don’t like to short change anybody, but since you brought up Lynch in the analogy, we feel the same way sometimes. We feel just listen to the song and whatever you interpretation is, it’s probably fine.”

The last word fell to Ron. “When you explain something, sometimes it’s diminishing the thing,” he said. “Sometimes people try to understand what something is about [and] sometimes the explanation is not really what it’s about. It’s just trying to find an answer to that question.”

Sparks Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Mon September 18 2017 - NORWICH Waterfront
Tue September 19 2017 - NEWCASTLE Boiler Shop
Wed September 20 2017 - EDINBURGH Queens Hall
Fri September 22 2017 - MANCHESTER O2 Ritz
Sat September 23 2017 - NOTTINGHAM Rock City
Sun September 24 2017 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute
Tue September 26 2017 - BRISTOL O2 Academy Bristol
Wed September 27 2017 - LONDON O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire
Thu September 28 2017 - LONDON O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire

Click here to compare & buy Sparks Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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