Saturday, 22 September 2007

Our Earthly Pleasures - Maxïmo Park

As difficult second albums go, this lacklustre sophomore effort from Tyneside's Maxïmo Park really takes the biscuit. Their debut, A Certain Trigger, was a lively, vital record that came out in the front runners for 'indie record of the year' in 2005. Their b-sides collection was pretty decent too, so what a shock it is that this second album sounds like the band have become a spent force.

Opener "Girls Who Play Guitars" has a catchy title and that's about it. Its an uncomfortable attempt to recapture the unconventional structure of "Apply Some Pressure" and fails. It also contains a strong contender for most bizarre lyric ever written - "we used to talk about boys with missing spines" - and indeed front man Paul Smith's wordplay frequently fails to match that on their debut. There are songs in here about traffic and motorways that sound like touring has taken the toll on his songwriting, and all he can do is look out the window and ramble about what he sees.

"Your Urge" is a dull and lifeless piano trundle with a weird discordant chorus. "The Unshockable" is even more strange; as Smith delivers semi-rap about roadworks over a weird twanging bass line, you'll wonder what on Earth inspired them to include it on the album. At least the chorus is passable.

Fortunately, it seems that while their experimental side has decayed somewhat, their more sentimental songwriting has been somewhat honed. "The Coast Is Always Changing" always sounded like The Smiths, but here "Books From Boxes" sounds really, like, no, really like it was written by Johnny Marr circa 1985. This is a good thing, and the song is a sweet ballad in which Smith's lyrical idiosyncrasy is once more endearing. It is followed by "Russian Literature" a pacey piano-led number that shouldn't work but does. For such a weird song (again, about architecture and travelling etc.) it is infuriatingly catchy.

Danceable indie rock comes in the form of "Our Velocity", which trots along through a succession of nice musical blocks, and "By The Monument". But that the album's highlight is also the oldest song on here is a worrying indication of slipping standards. "Nosebleed" is a simply gorgeous, mature piece of songwriting in which the time has been taken to get the arrangement just right. Its kept low-key and the deceptively simple melody and complex, thoughtful lyrics are allowed to carry the song through to its heart-rending - and cheekily abrupt - ending.

You'll probably find that you won't listen past this, the ninth of twelve tracks, but there's a decent chance you'll be satisfied enough here. As an album, Our Earthly Pleasures is a failure, but is perhaps worth purchasing on the strength of four or five excellent tracks. My hope is that this promising band aren't rushed in writing their third album, because it is obvious that they need time to develop and streamline an idiosyncratic writing style, and all too often on this album, the final effort is too rushed.


Ellen said...

Ok, you expected me to comment on this so I'm going to. Firstly, 2/5 is a bit harsh, especially if MOTNF gets 4/5. Personally, I like Girls Who Play Guitars, and considering the music you listen to I refuse to believe that the lyric about spineless boys is anywhere near the weirdest one you've heard. However, I do agree that Your Urge and the annoying one about roadworks and HGVs could both be skipped with no loss to the listener. But still, it's a decent album, even if it does lack some of the energy of ACT. And Paul Smith wears cool hats so they should get an extra point for that.

CQ said...

Well, I think the debate about his hats is undecided; they started getting a bit lame in about May 2006. Anyway, my point here was that while there were some high points, the low points dragged the album down so that to listen to it all the way through is extremely unpleasant. A few good singles an album does not make.

Glad someone stuck up for it thought...

Anonymous said...