The word “weird” has characterized Sparks as a band since the 1970s; with this in mind, both the content and the character of the group’s latest, Exotic Creatures of the Deep should come as no surprise. There is a sense in which modern music is either serious or whimsical, and it has always been one of Sparks’ strengths that they manage to bring both feelings together with remarkable ease. Here, campy song titles and lyrics are matched with a lush and lovely electro-opera for a result that’s difficult not to love.
On their twenty-first album, the brothers Mael conjure up laughable portraits of modernity, each of which comprises its own intriguing chapter in a collection. The “exotic creatures” referenced in the album title are everything from Photoshop (as a metaphor for making a bad relationship disappear) to Morrissey (as a metaphor for, well, Morrissey). With any other group, these characterizations would quickly become hokey; with Sparks, they’re remarkably compelling. Each of these tracks features rich layers of melody, taking cues from classical arrangements and infusing them with standard rock instrumentation and glorious vocal harmonies.
From the laughingly obvious “I Can’t Believe You Would Fall For All The Crap In This Song” to the sweet, strange sincerity of “Good Morning” (wherein waking up with a stranger results in such lines as “At some point did we trade vows / Are you just some high-priced service from uptown?”), Exotic Creatures of the Deep encapsulates everything we already know and love about Sparks. It’s hard, after this many years, to say anything new about this band; at the same time, this release seems more timely and astonishingly bright than ever.
It seems proper that the album begins and ends with the same introduction and conclusion; after a wild and wonderful journey, it makes sense to bring the listener back to where everything started. In this choral loop, rounds of “I don’t care if you love me / Just say you like me” float above simple “ahh”-ing scales, both drawing the listener in and begging for a repeat listen.