On their brand new release, "Hello Young Lovers," Sparks return with an exciting pop album of a mischievously un-poppish nature. Imagine Queen performing electronic Gershwin tunes on the Cartoon Network as televised from The Museum of Modern Art and maybe, just maybe, you're halfway there.
Sparks, comprised of the brilliantly visual brothers Ron and Russel Mael, have arguably based their 20-album career on a benevolent attack on pop music. But while they have probed and dissected the genre with razor sharp scalpels and wit, the results have never felt cold, scientific nor condescending. One only has to hear their more straightforward hits like "I Predict," "Cool Places," "When Do I Get To Sing My Way" and the Giorgio Moroder-produced "Number One Song In Heaven" to understand that Sparks are as skilled at composing brilliantly commercial pop as they are at warping the formula.
For the most part, "Hello Young Lovers" eschews the former for the latter. With its time changes and rapid-fire lyrics, its operatic verses segueing into vaudevillian choruses, and its spoken word vignettes layered over electro-Baroque backdrops, "Hello Young Lovers" is more art than pop -- and yet it still skillfully manages to reveal itself as pop music. The old adage that "you must first know the rules in order to break them" holds true here. Songs as knee-slappingly titled as "Dick Around," "(Baby Baby) Can I Invade Your Country," and "There's No Such Thing As Aliens" would likely fall apart less than three bars into it were it anybody else. But Sparks tread the line between the ridiculous and the sublimely poetic like no other.
"Here Kitty" (complete with "meow" sound effects) is on the surface a punchy, humorous tale of pet-owners using the old "cat-trapped-up-a-tree" excuse as an opportunity to meet rescue firemen, but in its third act the song unexpectedly transforms into a genuinely moving sentiment that's neither forced nor heavy-handed. Similarly, "Perfume," the album's first single, is a buoyant, showbizzy number that at first seems like a fun exercise in simply namechecking various designer scents, before revealing itself to be a genuine love song.
Much of Sparks' genius lies in their inspired exploration of the unexpected, and "Hello Young Lovers" is the perfect greeting to young or young-thinking lovers of smart pop music.