It’s too early to write Maxïmo Park off, or to turf them into the ever-growing pile of indie also-rans. But they’ll need to pull out all the stops to recover their poise after this worrying misstep.
Howard Devoto, Edwyn Collins, Elizabeth Frazer, John Squire, Will Sargent, Barney Sumner, David Gedge, Damon Albarn, Lee Mavers, Norman Blake, Harriet Wheeler, Pete Wiley, Michael Head, Shaun Ryder. Shaun Ryder, your boys have taken a hell of a beating.
Happen across this year’s Brit and NME awards and – aside from the realisation that the slow transformation of Bobby Gillespie and Mani into the baggy Kevin and Perry is now finally complete – what struck most forcefully was (those Arctic Monkeys aside) the absolute absence of any blue-blooded pretenders to the high seat of UK indie.
Watching The Fratellis, The Dirty Pretty Things, Hard-Fi, The Klaxons, Bloc Party, The Kaiser Chiefs – the supposed head-boys of the current class – exercise their particularly stagnant brew of anti-charisma, it became clear that the continued dearth of new GB talent can no longer be brushed off as a seasonal drought – it’s looking more and more like a long term climatic trend.
On the back of their intriguing (but over-praised) debut album, A Certain Trigger, some normally reliable sources have been tipping Newcastle’s Maxïmo Park as the band most likely to develop into something worthwhile and durable. Tracks like ‘Graffiti’ and ‘Apply Some Pressure’ hinted at a depth notably lacking in many of their peers, and Paul Smith’s lyrics – all chatroom blues and call centre fatalism – not to mention his refusal to ditch his hometown accent when singing, suggested a welcome flesh-and-blood approach to his craft.
Hopes were high – especially when it became clear that Smith had sorted out his diabolical hairdo (a cross between Willy Wonka and George Foreman) – that the second album could see Maxïmo Park make genuine strategic gains.
How disappointing then to discover it’s actually a backward step.
Our Earthly Pleasures starts well, with the buoyant ‘Girls Who Play Guitar’ and first single ‘Our Velocity’, but it never maintains the momentum – and ultimately drifts off without leaving any great impression.
There are occasions when it threatens to take off. ‘Your Urge’ is a lovely, melancholic song (“People are judged by their mistakes and how much money that they make”), and the chiming ‘Nosebleed’ (“He changed his look for you but you changed your life for him”) exposes a real heart and sense of compassion, while cascading like an old out-take from R.E.M’s Reckoning. But apart from that, nothing much remarkable happens.
You have to feel some sympathy for Smith. Post-Jarvis, there has been a glaring vacancy for the role as bookish frontman of the people, and Maxïmo Park’s singer seemed to have the job in the bag. Unfortunately, all the evidence suggests that (with a tendency to bloggerel) he has been promoted prematurely and wildly above his ability, and the vignettes on the new record are more Richard Stillgoe than Alan Sillitoe.
With Gil Norton behind the desk, we could also be forgiven for expecting much more, sonically, than is delivered. This is the man who brought gorgeous embellishments to ‘The Killing Moon’ and ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’, remember. Unfortunately, while the chugging guitars and driving synths on Our Earthly Pleasures are rendered with pristine élan, the air-less, digital sheen leaves it depressingly generic.
It’s too early to write Maxïmo Park off, or to turf them into the ever-growing pile of indie also-rans. But they’ll need to pull out all the stops to recover their poise after this worrying misstep. And call on inspiration from some of their illustrious forbearers.
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