Their fifth album resolutely refuses to tread water - a hard-fought victory
For bands from the mid-’00s, it’s like the first 20 minutes of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ out there. If you’re not Arctic Monkeys, Kings Of Leon, The Killers or Kasabian – and already safely headlining festivals – then every album release must feel like charging up the Normandy beaches into a barrage of anti-guitar gunfire from people who want the alternative world to be populated solely by blank-faced beard-and-model glitchpop duos and Hurts-alike Top Shop mannequins that have come to life and started honking out ‘future soul’. The Enemy, The Twang and Kaiser Chiefs have all been victims.
Of course, history records that a few plucky bands got through, and one of those was Maximo Park. ‘Questing, Not Coasting’ vowed the standout track from their third album ‘Quicken The Heart’ in 2009, and they’re certainly living up to the promise; they dodged a few bullets over 2012’s defiantly rockist ‘The National Health’ but this fifth album resolutely refuses to tread water, instead coming on like a literary pop version of The Maccabees’ recent explorations in jittery psychedelia.
Perhaps it’s the influence of Field Music, in whose Sunderland studio ‘Too Much Information’ was recorded. Perhaps it’s their work with Jessie Ware’s party-starter producer of choice, Dave Okumu. Or perhaps it’s their fresh love of Fever Ray’s music. But they’ve cleverly manoeuvred their way into the slipstream of far cooler alt.rock pioneers, softening Paul Smith’s Geordie bawl to a velveteen wisp and draping it in synthetic honey, pitched somewhere between Kraftwerk, The Magnetic Fields and ’80s Depeche Mode. Refined electro sweeps like ‘Brain Cells’, ‘Is It True?’ and ‘Leave This Island’ (a kind of lush pop //Lost/) are as mellow and rich as fine chocolate or Keith Richards.
Despite Maximo Park embracing this modernist new tack, traces of Maximo’s trademark Smiths-y melodies, tense jangles and occasional air of DH Lawrence getting amorous on Newcastle Brown Ale all linger. And if you’re one of those people who can only enjoy your airy indie pop if it comes with an extensive reading list drenched in existential trauma, fill yer boots: ‘Lydia, The Ink Will Never Dry’ is inspired by the experimental short stories of US author Lydia Davis; ‘Her Name Was Audre’ is the tale of feminist poet Audre Lorde wasted by illness and ‘I Recognise The Light’ is the audiobook version of Roberto Bolaño’s book on ‘disappeared’ Chilean citizens performed be ‘Humbug’-era Arctic Monkeys.
But it’s the suave stylistic twists that best signpost future Maximo quests: the compressed psych indie of ‘Give, Get, Take’, or the panoramic plushness of necking cocktails in Japanese skyscrapers that permeates ‘Drinking Martinis’. A hard-fought victory.