Maxïmo Park - The National Health
- By John Watts -
- Jun 14, 2012
According to Maxïmo Park's consistently hatted frontman, Paul Smith, Great Britain has seemingly lost its identity and is spiralling out of control. The Eurozone is crumbling, unemployment figures are rising and the coalition is struggling to lift us out of a double-dip recession. Not even a summer flurry of Jubilee and Olympic-shaped celebrations can cure a sickening sting in the tail cruelly implanted by Chelsea's European Cup triumph. It's official folks, British morale has plummeted to unforeseen lows in 2012.
In a perfect world dependable ministers would put things right, but, and it's a big but at that, if it really were plausible for musicians to alleviate the dull gloom that shadows this TOWIE-obsessed isle, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Maxïmo Park were the answer to a nation's prayers. 'Quicken the Heart' showcased a formulaic catalogue of eccentric guitar-pop that barely registered with its reoccurring themes of love and relationships - thus forcing the band into a welcome hiatus. Three years on the indie quintet re-enter our consciences with a vigorous sense of political purpose in the shape of their fourth record – 'The National Health'.
'When I was Wild' begins with Lukas Wooller's haunting keys accompanying subtle violins and a tentative questioning of, “Do I really need to give an introduction, must the artist bleed over the new production”. Topical lyrics that were recently alluded to by Smith when he publicly lambasted David Cameron for the negative affect government cuts are having on the creative arts. However, our Prime Minister need not fear a cemented angst-ridden future for the band as TNH adds only a further sprinkling of unrest.
Shining brightly as an antagonistic highlight is the thrilling title track which impresses with its frenetic riff and spat cries of “I fear we're heading for a catastrophe; England is sick and I'm a casualty”. Further complementing this disassociation from the trademark happy-go-lucky Park persona is the seductively sinister 'Hips and Lips' and a scuzzy Strokes-inspired 'Balieue'. Both emphasise social displeasures that should set the tone for the remainder of the record.
Sadly TNH fails to deliver the statement it dared to by falling back into the same trap as its predecessors – catchy hooks and bouncy tales of female woe. It's a shame Smith has experienced heartbreak tantamount to that of Ian Beale because it's blunted what could have been an inspired piece of work. That's not to say the soppy stuff fails to deliver though.
'The Undercurrents' is stunning, deeply revealing and couldn't be more perfect if it tried. Blessed with beautiful melodies and soothing vocal harmonies, Smith's sensitive delivery reaffirms his song-writing prowess. There are inevitable anomalies via the lacklustre 'This is What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted' and the laughable declaration that “some gentlemen prefer brunettes” in 'Take Me Home'; but the empathetic ballads are predominantly charming.
Although the gritty realism is in short supply and TNH has failed its manifesto’s key pledges, it’s difficult to criticise Maxïmo Park’s consistency. Regardless of whether or not the working-class emotion and romantic solace theme has been overdone, this Geordie mob certainly do it better than most.
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