Review Summary: An album that's a lot easier to admire than it is to love.
It's difficult to explain to outsiders, but here in the UK we have fierce pride in our country's musical heritage which has led to an unyielding affinity to our own bands, especially those of a guitar wielding variety. From this derives our neigh on obsessive urge to uncover the next great British guitar band, and it's for that reason that when one does step to the fore we dose ourselves in satisfaction more than perhaps any other nation. Given To The Wild
is scripted as the record which will elevate it's creators, Brighton five piece The Maccabees to such lofty heights. According to some, it will gain them acclaim worldwide from fans and critics alike, reinstating our nation's place at the top of the musical tree and will see them ride on a wave of commercial success currently unprecedented for a band of their ilk.
In fairness, they seem to have gotten the second half of that prediction spot on. At the time of writing, this record is on course to hit the top of the UK's album chart, usually the unshakable fortress of Adele, and a position that has only been occupied by home grown guitar groups for four weeks in the past year (and one of those as Coldplay!). It's not hard to see the album's appeal either, with huge cinematic soundscapes marking a radical departure from the their quirky beginnings and seeing them adopt a level of ambition practically unforeseeable a short while ago. It's that ambition which ultimately proves to be both the record's making and it's downfall, as it sets the Maccabees well apart from their wealth of contemporaries yet all too often gives the impression of a band simply trying too hard to make it's mark.
The shift in approach that they've taken is evident as early as the introductory title track, which presents a band unrecognisable to that which made Colour It In
and Wall Of Arms,
both of which had more than a whiff of landfill about them. With a warm bed of synths and a new sense of restraint, it's immediately obvious that Given To The Wild
is a completely different beast, and that promise is carefully upheld throughout the album's duration. These songs are subtle, calculated and at times epic in their scope, but more often than not they seem to fall short of their intended impact. The likes of 'Ayala,' 'Heave' and 'Unknow' are all wrapped in vast swathes of potential, and although all enjoyable they never really come close to truly fulfilling it. Sadly, the only track which really does this new sound justice is 'Forever I've Known,' which acts as the record's centerpiece and releases much of it's tension with a splendid swooning riff, but too much of what surrounds it simply drifts over ones head without making all that much of an impression.
Throughout all of this Orlando Weeks is tasked with carrying the load as frontman, a roll that he hasn't the presence to fill, and as such never seems entirely comfortable in. It's telling that by far his most convincing performance comes on 'Pelican,' the only perennially upbeat song and the only one here which wouldn't seem comically out of place on either of their first two records. For what it's worth, 'Pelican' is another excellent individual moment, casting the band in their element and seeing them deliver a song with more accessibility and arguably substance than anything they've yet come out with.
Unfortunately, though, emblems of brilliance such as that and 'Forever I've Known' just aren't enough to carry a record which wants to be so much more than it fundamentally is. It's certainly one with plenty of positive traits, and hints that The Maccabees could well be capable of making a classic some day in the future, but regretfully Given To The Wild
just doesn't have enough internal substance to be donned with that title. Credit where it's due - this is a huge leap forward for the band, with that future interest alone proving how far they've come. It's also clearly a project that they've invested a lot of time in, but while that dedication should be applauded this is ultimately the type of record that one can waste hours over trying to love when in reality there's not a lot to justify such endeavor.