Album Review: Paul Smith - Margins (Billingham)
Free from constraints he didn't need to be free from, Maximo's leader delivers his creepy break-up album
There was no need for a Paul Smith solo album, seemingly no ego struggling to burst free from Maximo Park – his foppish, funny lyrics sat just dandily amidst the band’s angular charms, referencing Soviet filmmakers and Belgian journals to his heart’s waywardly bookish delight. ‘Margins’ though, is mawkish and self-indulgent to the last, a wet weekend of a record, drably trudging through inelegant, wannabe-Mike Leigh vignettes into Smith’s failed relationship.
The opening tracks are passably nice – ‘North Atlantic Drift’ rings like a blunted Maximo song, his hopeful voice as comforting as any softly spoken northern chap’s. ‘The Crush And The Shatter’ plies a clever trick in discomfortingly roomy production and paranoid lyrics about spying her “scarf through the letterbox”, perfectly encompassing the obsessive wonder about how long to wait before it’s OK to make contact. Its chorus might not be scissor-kickingly explosive, but Smith’s cathartic yell has a steadfast ‘yeah! It’s gonna be OK!’ resolve to it. Sadly, it’s fleeting.
What Smith seems to have forgotten is that he’s made this album for other people to listen to, dipping into memories so intensely intimate as to be creepy. “In a New York hotel room, your flesh collided with mine”, he sings on ‘Strange Friction’. Granted, it’s pretty hard to sing about sex but this just sounds haphazard and painful, conjuring images of swinging appendages in a carnal Newton’s Cradle. While he’s still wearing his hat.
The roomy production doesn’t help the stalkerish creep factor – as a one-off earlier on it was fine, but over the course of these 13 incredibly long-seeming, clunkily structured songs, it infinitely expands to sound like a cavernous room with Smith’s voice echoing through disconcerting key changes, creaking as he rocks on his chair (probably).
Despite all this, it’s not hard to feel sorry for him. His music’s gone to pieces with his rationale, and he’s trying to figure out how to rebuild it. Might we suggest that a good post-break-up shag might have restored his vim better than this?
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