Bookish tendencies are by no means a bad thing, but there’s always been an air of wimpy feyness about The Maccabees that suggests Orlando Weeks and his crew spent their art-school days stalking the corridors like nerve-wracked velociraptors, bobbing their heads appreciatively at fetching pairs of clogs. So while 2007 debut ‘Colour It In’ was a commendable set of art-pop confections, it was short on bite and big on cutesy, cuddly songs with titles like ‘Toothpaste Kisses’. The solution? Simple: The Maccabees have ‘gone dark’. Or at least, darker.
By now you’re probably familiar with ‘No Kind Words’, given away as a free download and a genuine departure for the band, with Weeks’ dispassionate delivery about “Tempting disaster, testing water with another’s daughter” and Rupert Jarvis’ oscillating bassline lending a sense of gloom to proceedings. Suddenly there’s lovelorn cynicism where once there was doe-eyed optimism and songs about swimming pools, and this suits them a lot better.
If nothing else quite matches ‘No Kind Words’, a lot comes close. ‘Colour It In’ was troubled by lack of cohesion; as Weeks himself has admitted, it felt like a collection of songs rather than an actual album, and a lot of them were merely pleasant diversions until the next single came along. That’s not the case with ‘Wall Of Arms’; from the anguished opener ‘Love You Better’ on, this feels more complete than its predecessor. There are subtle Arcade Fire influences (no doubt encouraged by ‘Neon Bible’ producer Markus Dravs) on the military march of ‘Can You Give It’ and the scratchy ‘Seventeen Hands’, while ‘One Hand Holding’ has a whimsical ’80s pop feel that’s underscored by more inner turmoil (“Why would you kill it before it dies?” demands Weeks). In fact, only when they revert to their puppyish former ways – like the title track, or the hatefully nice ‘Dinosaurs’ – is the spirit of Athlete terrifyingly summoned, like some over-amiable djinn from the ether.
That aside, ‘Wall Of Arms’ sounds mostly effortless and unstudied. No longer too pop to be art and too art to be pop, The Maccabees are evolving into their own entity. We can’t wait to see where it takes them.