Review Summary: Our Earthly Pleasures is a dense record; twelve tracks clock in at little more than forty-one minutes, but it’s a shattering listen from start to finish
There’s something genuinely beautiful about Geordies singing in harmony. Maybe it’s the novelty factor, the once-in-a-lifetime meeting on Tyneside of two people capable of holding a tune, I don’t know. It works, don’t overthink it.
Yet it’s hard to put a check excessive thinking when faced with Our Earthly Pleasures
, the follow-up to Maximo Park’s acclaimed 2005 debut A Certain Trigger
. Our Earthly Pleasures
, in contrast to the water-tight radio punk of its predecessor, overflows with ideas, even if it’s to the detriment of the material. Lead single ‘Our Velocity’ is the album in a microcosm, almost an exercise in condensing as many themes onto the side of a 7” disc. Fronting with hypnotic ‘Baba O’Riley’-style keyboards, it’s as intense and technically impressive as pop singles come, shifting tempo constantly and taking in furious four-part rhythmic flourishes as frontman Paul Smith vocalises with increasing irritation, ”love is a lie, which means I’ve been lied to / love is a lie, which means I’ve been lying too.”
Sporting a new-found flair for grandiosity, the band have grabbed their second album by the balls, doing away with the perennially ditched-after-the-first-record producer Paul Epworth (Bloc Party, The Futureheads) and drafting Gil Norton, he of Pixies and, more recently, Feeder and Jimmy Eat World fame. Norton’s clean, liberating production coaxes out the stadium rock beast from Maximo Park Zoo, substituting A Certain Trigger
’s messy garage rock for bigger choruses, crunchy, precise guitars and exuberant keyboard passages more suited to a modern prog rock group than a bunch of jangly-popsters from England. They’ve fought back against those who unfairly branded them an inferior Futureheads clone, rolling back the predominant Smiths/Morrissey/Marr influence of their debut, or at least personalising it better, re-surfacing only for the ‘This Charming Man’-influenced ‘Books from Boxes.’
All twelve tracks, in one way or another, are dominated by Smith’s current state of mind, as he documents the end of a long-decaying relationship, thankfully in no particular order (that’d be a bit cheesy, really). The lyrics deal almost exclusively with the subject, drawing almost McCartney-like inspiration from even the most banal subjects (traffic patterns among them) to illustrate the strange and often conflicting emotions brought about by the break-up. The aforementioned ‘Books from Boxes’ shows the feelings of emptiness brought on by a loved one, or a never-loved one, leaving for good, with the lines: ”You spent the evening unpacking books from boxes / You passed me up so as not to break a promise / Scattered polaroids and sprinkled words around your collar in the long run said you knew that this would happen.”
Morrissey-like, Smith manages to casually slip dozens of one-liners into his prose-like compositions, criticising his lover for the meaningless of her gestures with the lines, “I feel the weight upon your kiss ambiguous,”
from ‘Books from Boxes,’ and "empty words so free of connotations- all dreams come to an end"
from the baroque Rufus Wainwright-like ballad ‘Your Urge.’ ‘Russian Literature’ rivals ‘Our Velocity’ in the tension stakes, with the band amping up via barrelhouse piano as Smith goes into philosophical mode, musing on the sex-but-no-feeling relationship with the remark, “our earthly pleasures distract us against our will,”
and adding sarcastically, “are you hopeful or are you just gullible"”
He saves the best for last, on why the relationship can’t work, stating plainly “I can’t live my life feeling nervous about tomorrow.”
Following Smith’s lead, the music is just as uncertain as the emotions expressed in the lyrics. Opener ‘Girls Who Play Guitars,’ ‘Our Velocity’ and ‘By the Monument’ leap from extreme to extreme, shifting tempo at will and sometimes brutally dynamic. ‘Russian Literature’ begins with softly, softly piano and gradually winds and unwinds itself before exploding at the finish, also like the meaningful/meaningless sex it describes. Our Earthly Pleasures
is a dense record; twelve tracks clock in at little more than forty-one minutes, but it’s a shattering listen from start to finish, an emotional rollercoaster as much as it is a depressing tale of a rather sad bloke. It’s ironic, then, that the best and most touching track on the entire disc is ‘Books from Boxes,’ the Smiths-like jangle-pop number that for once dispenses with the tidal wave of, well, everything that makes ‘Our Velocity’ and ‘Russian Literature’ so thrilling.
With a couple more moments like ‘Books from Boxes’ and perhaps a track or two trimmed off (‘Karaoke Plays’ has to be a candidate), Our Earthly Pleasures
would be pushing for classic certification, but for now it’ll have to be content to be a marked improvement upon A Certain Trigger