Review Summary: UK sensations of a few years ago make an unexpectedly brilliant comeback.
One of the most exciting trends of the past few years has been the so-called “Post-Punk Revival”. Back in 2004 and 2005, the toast of the music scene, particularly in the UK, had become bands such as Bloc Party, Kaiser Chiefs, The Futureheads, The Libertines, some scrawny teens called the Arctic Monkeys and a quintet of precocious twentysomethings from Newcastle Upon Tyne. The band was Maxїmo Park, and they came out with a raw, cracking set of indie pop in 2005 with “A Certain Trigger”. Witty growers like “Apply Some Pressure” and “I Want You To Stay” made a big impact on the scene at the time, getting praise from critics and fans alike.
But a foul smell was in the air after the PPR bands had unpacked from the tour and headed into the studio. Would Second Album Syndrome plague the bands? Some, like Bloc Party, made huge and brilliant follow-ups. Others became more famous for their frontman’s drug antics and the model they were dating then their records themselves (oh, do we really need to say?). But Maxїmo Park have taken a little longer to follow up “A Certain Trigger”, and the new album is more than worth the wait.
Renowned producer Gil Norton is behind the production desk for “Our Earthly Pleasures”. This record adds to his already impressive portfolio of the Pixies, The Distillers, Jimmy Eat World and Foo Fighters amongst many others. So, you’re pondering, Maxїmo have gone for a more rocking sound? Well…in parts, yes.
The cracking lead single “Our Velocity” is a perfect example of what Norton’s done for their sound- the song is explosive, layered, frantic and a vocal standout for proud Novocastrian Paul Smith. Another good example is “The Unshockable”; whilst not possessing the immediate charm of “Velocity”, it is still highly catchy, and a bridge build up that could rival the Kaiser Chiefs in terms of energy.
Another great thing about this album is that when most bands enter ballad territory, it’s miss more often than hit. However, in Maxїmo’s case, this is where their best songs come out. The primary example is the simply outstanding “Books From Boxes”, possibly the best song on the album. The track is a heartfelt tale of a shattered relationship of love; straining to remain friends. It’s almost as if you can pinpoint the moment where Smith’s heart breaks when he croons lines like “You have to leave, I appreciate that” and “The pounding rain continued it's bleak fall/And we decided just to write after all”.
Elsewhere on the record, the slow, harmonic pop of “Your Urge” reveals Smith’s complications with himself: “I don’t know what my crime is” he confesses in the song; adding: “I cause upset without trying”. Smith, it seems, also has other issues-or at least used to, revealed throughout this song especially- alcohol (“Another useless fumble/Another drunken stumble”), social status (“People are judged on their mistakes/ And how much money that they make”) and desperation (“I empty out my pockets at the end of the night/Another scrawled first name”).
It is ironic, then, that all of his issues make for such wonderful listening (Well, at least to these ears- the Geordie accent is definitely an acquired taste).
Of course Smith’s lyrics aren’t always perfect- this record’s equivalent of its predecessors’ “I’ll do graffiti if you sing to me in French” head-scratcher (excluding the entire song “Acrobat” from ACT) is “A Fortnight’s Time” lyric “Five times five equals twenty-five/You should know your times tables by now”. But that’s easy to put aside. It just doesn’t feel relevant when you’re having so much fun, right?
Another big improvement on this record from the previous is that the band seems tight as ever musically. Guitarist Duncan Lloyd with some very choppy guitar work (Books From Boxes, Karaoke Plays), keys man Lukas Wooller has some great moments, notably “Russian Literature” (despite bad first impressions, being basically nothing but background buzz on opener “Girls Who Play Guitars”), as do the solid rhythm section drummer Tom English and bassist Archis Tuku. They are the kind of band that don’t need solos to prove how great they are, and none are self-indulgent.
Summing up, there’s no need to call the doctor. The Maxїmo boys have cured themselves of Second Album Syndrome completely. It’s a total improvement, featuring some of the best lyricism on any record of the past few years and a fresh, original take on the aforementioned “post-punk revival” sound. How much Paul Smith and Gil Norton themselves have had to do with this is up to you.
A cracking, layered, thought-provoking record; which can easily be seen as an Album Of The Year contender already