Maxïmo Park – Our Earthly Pleasures
Record Label – Warp Records
Release Date – 8 May 2007
We are, it seems, in the midst of yet another British Invasion. While this current incarnation is not of a Beatles/Stones or Oasis/Radiohead magnitude, a large number of Brit bands are nevertheless sweeping the indie rock landscape—Bloc Party, Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, and The Kooks, just to name a few. And although this invasion features no screaming teenage girls, we do get plenty of scenester kids screaming, “I heard them first!”
But no matter when you first heard Maxïmo Park—on their cocky-yet-catchy debut, A Certain Trigger, on the follow-up, Our Earthly Pleasures (the review to which you are currently reading) or maybe even in your favorite neighborhood pub in the band’s hometown of Newcastle—there is no denying that they are one of the smartest, most talented bands to come from across the pond.
2005’s A Certain Trigger saw the band just beginning to come into their own as songwriters and musicians. The songs all feature a certain rawness, in the lyrics as well as the rhythm; the band was still a bit immature. Yet in that rawness was a certain charm, a genuineness that drew the listener in. Paul Smith’s irreverent, confessional lyrics combined with the band’s basic, yet evocative sound to create a debut that was perhaps greater than the sum of its parts.
With Our Earthly Pleasures, the band attempts to recreate that same effortless charm in a more structured studio environment. The songs here are more precisely arranged and more tightly constructed; they all have a glossier, slicker feel. While this does showcase the band’s improved songwriting (and enable the band to reach a broader audience), it nevertheless robs the album of the rugged sincerity that made A Certain Trigger such a success.
All is not lost, however—Our Earthly Pleasures is still a knockout album. “Girls Who Play Guitars,” the opener, features catchy riffs, wonderfully subtly bass lines and charismatic vocals that recall the best A Certain Trigger has to offer. “Our Velocity”—the album’s first single—jumps out at the listener with a bouncy synth line that immediately ingrains itself into your head, complimented by Smith’s cocksure lyrics and delivery.
Indeed, once the listener is able to get past the album’s inherent overproduction (the overused synth tends to mask the bass, and the percussion could be much more hard-hitting), it is Smith that makes the album worth listening to. His self-sure vocals are emblematic of the band as a whole—they’re good, and they know it. Songs like the aforementioned “Our Velocity” and “The Unshockable” feature the band at their best.
However, the album does hearken back to some of the melancholic themes that dominated A Certain Trigger, with songs like “Books From Boxes,” “By The Monument,” and “Nosebleed” exploring faded love and nostalgia. Yet, even when they do show their more downtrodden side, the band manages to remain upbeat—you find yourself bouncing your head as Smith sings about decaying relationships and broken promises. This creates an interesting dichotomy as the band is able to play on both your emotions and your sense of rhythm. Most bands can only do one thing well, but Maxïmo Park is equally adept at both.
Unfortunately, the album isn’t able to sustain its momentum until the end. The album’s denouement tends towards the slow and uninteresting; the overproduction really starts to show here. “Sandblasted and Set Free” has a ubiquitous, grating synth line and yawn-inducing vocals. “Parisian Skies” sounds like Coldplay on Red Bull—not a good thing. I usually find myself zoning out after “Nosebleed” on most listens.
Ultimately, however, Our Earthly Pleasures is easily one of the better albums to come out of 2007 so far. The band seems to be steadily mastering its dual-natured, sincere-yet-smug sound while reaching out to more and more fans. Our Earthly Pleasures is a step in a decidedly more poppy direction, yet the band still manages to stay true to its northern England roots—Smith’s Newcastle accent is on full display. With taut melodies, magnetic vocals, and an undeniable swagger, Maxïmo Park is without a doubt at the forefront of not only this newest British Invasion, but of the indie rock scene in general.
Great review, although the "british invasion" is kind of a misnomer since it's pretty much the same 8 people who attend all the bands' concerts in the US. I do love this album though, the best of the year so far, and 'Books From Boxes' has had me spellbound since the first time I heard it.