A brilliant return-to-form
There’s something brilliantly knowing and straightforward about how Maxïmo Park’s comeback album begins with a one-minute piano brush called ‘When I Was Wild’, on which singer Paul Smith sings redemption lyrics about when he lived “[i]in a shadow world[/i]” with “[i]repercussions[/i]” before emerging as a grown-up. Then it ends, suddenly, and there’s a three-second pause, in which we wonder what the ‘grown up’ Maxïmo Park will have bloomed into, and hope it’s nothing like Smith’s underwhelming 2010 solo album, ‘Margins’.
And then… BAM! The accelerator pedal is pressed to the floor, the title track’s snaking fuzz-pop guitar line slips down the spine like an ice cube and we are driven, wind in face, into the most brilliantly ‘Maxïmo Park’ Maxïmo Park album since their 2005 debut ‘A Certain Trigger’. ‘The National Health’, you see, is a fully ticked-off shopping list of everything that’s unashamedly ace about this band, and it’s all been bought from Waitrose – a change from the Tesco Value offerings of 2007’s ‘Our Earthly Pleasures’ and 2009’s ‘Quicken The Heart’.
It’s easy to explain how the likes of ‘Write This Down’, ‘The National Health’ and ‘Until The Earth Would Open’ hit hard. It’s the faux-Smiths jangles, the blustery organ, the hyper-speed guitar squiggles and, happily, the choruses so big they have their own gravitational pulls. All that on an album with Usain Bolt-worthy pacing that makes the whole thing feel as fresh to the face as a skydive after a wet shave. One of the reasons it works so well is that Maxïmo Park take themselves so seriously, and every song strives for heads-down greatness. ‘The Undercurrents’ is the one moment they achieve it, transcending everything around it (including Smith’s slightly clunky “I won’t forget the way you forgive me” hook).
It builds, storm-like, into something that might protrude proudly from a catalogue of the Bunnymen, of The Verve, of latter-day Manics, of any Great British Band aware that they are indeed a Great British Band. Maxïmo Park obviously aren’t, but for these brief moments the possibilities are there. It’s the peak.
The only genuine misfire on the album is a lyrical one, when on ‘This Is What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted’ Smith’s pronunciation has him declaring that “human nature is on a loo” instead of “on a loop”. But, hey, it’s fitting that an accidental missive about the evolution of our species gets a bit lost, because on ‘The National Health’ Maxïmo Park aren’t making any steps forward at all. They’re staying put, yet somehow they’re kicking harder than ever.