Brothers Ron and Russel Mael have spent the last forty-plus years innovating pop music as we know it, and inspiring countless musicians and artists to do the same. Visual artists such as director Edgar Wright have sighted Sparks as a major influence, while even legendary artists in their own right, such as Sir Paul McCartney, have gleaned ideas from the group. Since their inception back in the 1970s, the act have remained consistent in their output, never showing signs of slowing down, even to this day with their 26th studio album The Girl Crying In Her Latte.
The title track opens with glitchy synths, almost devoid of rhythm, before Russel begins intoning the verse. Subtle drums enter, but the majority of the track is made up by layered synths, and the pair’s harmonised voices. Veronica Lake hits with an alternative 80s flare, with noisy hits and detuned bell sounds. Its not until Nothing Is As Good As They Say It Is until full organic instruments come into play. Electric guitars and real drums take on an early-era punk vibe, complete with the lyrics about being disengaged with the world around you. Escalator is instantly catchy, its simple lyrics and slowly building melody meeting in a low-key pop tune. The Mona Lisa’s Packing, Leaving Late Tonight integrates hand claps into its heavy synth instrumental, while You Were Meant For Me takes a grittier approach, leaning more into Human League territory.
We Go Dancing juxtaposes a horror-esc string arrangement with Russel’s upbeat vocals about going out and having fun. It’s like a scene from a musical, where a seemingly happy scene has malevolent undertones. Take Me For A Ride appears as this former track’s followup, embracing the same theatrical sound and dark vibe. In the vein of musicals, It’s Sunny Today acts as the epilogue, before the group head back into the pop album. It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way is a late album highlight. Despite being one of the simpler songs on the record, it’s a great mid-tempo ballad that leads wonderfully into closer Gee, That Was Fun, a somewhat melancholic piano-led ending.
The Girl Crying In Her Latte, if intended in such a way, comes across as a great concept album. Concerns with modernity, escapism, and momentary joy are all represented in this eclectic ensemble of songs. It’s little surprise, however, that Sparks have managed to create yet another album, even this far into their career, that challenges listeners by intertwining genres and playing with sounds. It is a delightfully deranged listen from start to finish.
Writer and Musician, Ryan Bulbeck has been published with a number of online publications, and has worked with a myriad of great artists, both as a performer, and as a producer. His most recent band The 295 are still active, playing shows around the UK.