Since the first time Newcastle five-piece smart-pop thinnies Maximo Park exploded on the indie scene last year, they’ve been running dangerously close to The Futureheads. Spottings of band members on the loveable art-punker’s tourbus, very possibly to ‘see how it’s done’, have been duly noted and in the shadow of their ascendance to top 20 hit-maker status we have seen a dip in the fortunes of The Golden Virgins, once the most promising band in all of Sunderland, now parted from their record label Beggars. We know that the indie world isn’t a popularity contest, and if it was the ‘Heads crowned Kings of the Land tomorrow. But inside industry rumours of dogged determination in the ‘Park camp and self-claimed status of being ‘close to Beatlemania’ in Japan beg the question: if Barry and co won’t pass the torch down, will Maximo Park snatch it from them anyway and do a runner?
Luckily, Maximo Park have a rather good and unpredictable ace up their sleeve: they write killer, dance-filling pop songs, mostly about the near universal topic (unless you’re Ross) of not being able to get girls to fall in love with them. From ‘Postcard Of A Painting’ to ‘Limassol’, Duncan Lloyd (guitars), Lukas Wooler (keyboards), Archis Tikus (bass), Tom English (drums) and side-parted Ian Curtis-alike Paul Smith (vocals) spin yarn after hook-glimmering yarn about solitude, frustration and the quest for romance in the face of rejection. And that’s just the way we like them, especially in times where lots of men in indie (Pete Doherty, Serge Kasabian) seem to be copping off with Kate Moss and/or becoming models in men’s fashion magazines. So singer Paul Smith must do as Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker did: remain thin, bookish, ostensibly sexually frustrated and inadequate, and sing about that for the next ten years. Only after he has paid these dues may Smith himself marry a wealth-ridden fashion-lady called Camille.
From album opener ‘Signal and Sign’, an infectious attack on lethargy, and recent single ‘Graffiti’ – a Jam-style call to arms for purpose in the provinces – to the brilliant ’Going Missing’, Maximo Park have made a record which is itching with ideas, full of lyrical twists and knowing nods to Sparks, Talking Heads, The Smiths, Duran Duran, and Franz Ferdinand, however much they may deny their influences.
Old men in long macs seem also to have made an impression on Paul, the new self-deprecating frontman-cum-social outcast to contend with Morrissey. ‘Apply Some Pressure’, besides being an unashamed modern pop frenzy and hit single, also contains the line “You know that I would love to see you in that dress/ I hope that I will live to see you undress”. This is either a comment, as Smith himself says, on the ‘fragile desperation of lust’ or the bad pick-up line of a sleaze merchant feining a terminal illness for a sympathy vote. One to bear in mind if you ever get backstage at a Maximo Park gig.
Album highlight ‘The Coast is Always Changing’ is both an inspired anthem to the transience of these times and the sort of gem that induces nostalgia for things that haven’t ever happened yet, while ‘Now I’m All Over the Shop’ ends with the ultimate outpouring of rejection: “I know you’ll be fine / Now that you’re not mi-iine!”. It’s like an indie pop-opera of the fall and fall of one man’s fumblings, and what can be construed as pretention onstage (Smith has a habit of producing a book during their gigs, as some kind of look-at-me-and-my-lofty-intellect fop-prop) transfers much better on record as vital eccentricity and passion.
It’s a charmed year for British bands, and with the gates opened for the new wave of intelligent, articulate pop bands to follow Bloc Party, Art Brut and The Rakes, Maximo Park are rightly inducted on their strength of their brilliant songs, if not their charisma. If
this invites lesser known clever quintessential Englishmen The Boyfriends and Luxembourg emerging blinking into the sun, and bookish pop becomes the order of the day, then the librarian’s loss is our gain. And with a debut this energetic and cleverly crafted, we can only hope that Maximo Park keep on reading books, sulking in bus shelters and, most importantly, remaining unlucky in love. Long may indie pop stars of our land remain unpopular and celibate.