Sparks: Hippopotamus review – Ron and Russell Mael at their arch-pop best

Still forging into new areas … Sparks.

In their 45-year career, Ron and Russell Mael have pulled off everything from Morrissey-favoured operatic glam rock to Giorgio Moroder-produced electronic disco (the wonderful The Number One Song in Heaven) to the FFS collaboration with Franz Ferdinand. The band’s 23rd studio album surprisingly echoes their stomping guitar/drums heyday, when Russell’s gale-force falsetto and keyboard player Ron’s otherworldly lopsided grins to the Top of the Pops camera caused small children to peer from behind the sofa. However, while Missionary Position sounds like retooled classic Sparks, the Los Angeles brothers are still forging into new areas. For all their trademark arch, witty and knowingly off-kilter pop, there is a new emotional heft to songs such as the lovely Probably Nothing, which delicately tackles the difficult subject of age-related memory loss. I Wish You Were Fun is one of the simplest, sweetest-sounding songs of their career. For anyone yet to experience the Maels’s unique charms, their best album in decades is as good as any place to start.