Indie-rock veterans go disco on a lively but meek protest album
Trump’s quasi-fascist Presidency-for-profit, Brexit’s lies, Tory election fraud, the cruelty of austerity, Syria – with the world going to hell in an ‘I’ve Spent The Public’s Millions Golfing At Mar-a-Lago’ T-shirt, rock music is finally getting angry again. Cabbage, Vant, Sløtface, Idles and PWR BTTM are launching a new wave of protest rock, and here come Newcastle’s indie-rock Rimbauds Maxïmo Park, charging into the fray with an album “informed by the dire state of world affairs” and full of anthems attacking the refugee crisis, Nigel Farage, benefit cuts and inequality in the style of, well, ’80s funk-pop.
The problem is ‘Risk To Exist’, with impeccable bad timing, sounds neither fist nor funk. Realising that it was way past last orders for noughties indie rock, Maxïmo successfully incorporated the misty synthpop of early Depeche Mode and Kraftwerk into their indie-lectual romances on 2014’s ‘Too Much Information’, but this sixth album sets out to emulate Prince, Stevie Wonder, Nik Kershaw and Peter Gabriel’s ‘So’. Meanwhile, music’s rising political ire is finding its voice in grime, punk-pop, rap, protest poetry and angry blokes from Nottingham shouting “F**K OFF!” a lot; by comparison, polite synthpop tracks about the disabled being forced into work – ‘Work And Then Wait’ and ‘Make What You Can’ – sound as effective and powerful as a Green Party conference.
As reliably as Maxïmo’s trademark jolt-pop melodies abound throughout, it’s jarring to be expected to groove cheerfully along to ‘The Hero’, the Syrian migrant crisis as imagined by Level 42. Maxïmo fare better when tackling the Foreign Office’s decision to stop search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean with an ounce of indie-rock spite on the title track (“How can we not extend a hand into the perilous waters of hell? / Where’s your empathy?” singer Paul Smith argues), equating Farage’s venomous, insidious separatism with bad drugs on the fiery ‘Get High (No, I Don’t)’ or hammering brainless Brexiteers on the Arabian-tinged ‘The Reason I Am Here’. ‘Risk To Exist’ is a cracking post-debate disco record, certainly, but no one ever changed the world over cocktails at Club Tropicana.