Sparks: The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte (Island) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Sparks

The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte

Island

May 25, 2023 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


“They always said you must stay between the lines/Be easily defined/Or you’re wasting all your time,” sings Russell Mael on “It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way.” It’s the kind of advice they’ve keenly rebuked throughout their admirably eccentric career, and on the Californian brothers’ 26th studio album, The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte, Sparks further unpick the multitudinous threads of their own absurd world, layering classical composition over disco beats, using humor as a shovel with which to uncover the profound, acting as wily, witty agents of chaos, their victory flag awkwardly protruding from pop’s hollow temple.

Superficially, it’s a record that deals musically in repetition and lyrically in theatrical silliness, but there’s nothing chuckleheaded about Sparks’ branch of humor; the title track may seem to swim in trivial, mocking detail but it soon surfaces with something more incisive. “They all ordered the same/Guess the world is to blame,” observes Russell, a moment of coffee shop sadness now a microcosm for post-everything ills.

Platitudes are thrown into question, as on “You Were Meant for Me,” the chorus responding to the title “Turn the pages/How does this all end?” over an oscillating hum of synth. Absolutes are further belittled on “Not That Well Defined”—“Things are either black or they are white/Things are either wrong or they are right,” prods Russell before ambiguously offering the titular chorus line.

As is so often the case with Ron and Russell Mael, subversion is key to their brilliance. “We Go Dancing” betrays it’s summery lyric with an impending apocalypse of baroque orchestration, military marching sounds, bugles of doom, and a Skrillex name-check.

“Nothing Is As Good As They Say It Is” takes that cliche and quickly weaves it into a plea from a newborn to return to the womb, delivered as a glam rock romp. The mismatch of form and content, their consistent eye for keen contrast is as compelling as the candy-sticky, string-laden cabaret tunes.

In the latter parts of the album, apparent frivolity gives way to a more sober eye. “A Love Story” takes a one-note motif and drives it relentlessly home as a drug deal is monotonously acted out, sequencer loops on endless repeat.

Then, on the aforementioned “It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way” Russell and Ron ape an acoustic Bowie ballad, setting out their stall of idiosyncrasy and their awareness and acceptance of the limitations it places on them. “I’ll pay for it, I’ll pay for it,” sings Russell of the consequences of their peculiarity, resignedly. Of course it’s the most commercially viable song on the album, which, irony layered upon irony, is very probably intentional.

“Gee, That Was Fun” is a truly unexpected moment, serving as a moving elegy to a relationship and a sweeping climax to the album. “Gee, if I had known, I’d have been less on my phone” has to be one of the lines of the year, and, in spite of its wry tone, gives a fleeting emotional insight into the usually guarded, charmingly arch Mael brothers.

The Girl Is Crying In Her Latte is another funny, sad, clever, stupid, artful, basic, beautiful journey into Sparks’ peculiarly well-crafted universe, resistant to external gridding, and a spectacular example of one of music’s most beguiling and bewildering bands. You’d be a fool to think they’re being serious, but even more so if you think it’s a joke. (www.sparksofficialus.com)

Author rating: 9/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10



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