Sunday, 10 June 2012

Review: Maxïmo Park - The National Health

 With it's simple and effective hooks, use of flashy synth backdrops and buzzing guitar riffs, Our Earthly Pleasures took Newcastle trio Maxïmo Park into the public eye, making them one of the last indie bands to gain some credibility right before the UK fell into the indie landfill. Well, I'd like to think that. I know they'll be many wiser reviewers that believe that Maxïmo Park are one of the hundreds of figureheads in landfill indie but I'm going to defend them in this case since I've always viewed them as being superior in quality and delivering a greater impact than The Subways or Hard-Fi or many more. And their fourth album The National Health has the strength for Maxïmo Park to fly far from the landfill into much clearer territories once again.

 From the surprisingly bleak piano led opening of When I Was Still Wild, you get the feeling that this album isn't one that's going to sticks to conventions and will see the band delve into a wider range of influences that just synth led indie rock tunes. There is some truth in that, but it must be established that Maxïmo Park do adhere to the conventions of the worn-out take on indie rock across the album. However, the band take this style and inject some freshness into the songwriting style, thus the hushed delicacy of Until the Earth Would Open and crystalline synth backdrops that give wings to Wolf Among Men save these songs from being dragged down into landfill blandness.

 With the selection of jaunty indie anthems also comes a range of wider influences and varying range of influences and the mixture of both types of songs on The National Health is effective in obtaining a balance across the albums, so that the classic Maxïmo Park characteristic (An established enough band to have a characteristic sound??) is upheld, while fresh new ideas are also performed. The subtle dance beats of Hips and Lips create a further sense of vulnerability and conscious maturity in the band's songwriting ability, as does The Undercurrents which borrows influences from the American emo-based side of indie rock, carrying a reminiscence to Minus the Bear and Pinback.

 With frontman Paul Smith's adaptable vocals, he fits a wide range of emotional outputs for every song, wether it be the uplifting charm of Waves of Fear or wether it's accompanying the haunting layering of guitars where his vocals bare a reminiscence to The Cure's Robert Smith's lower moments on Banlieue, unquestionably throwing in a more gothic element, while the band achieve the unthinkable goal of being an indie band to write something genuinely touching with the acoustic ballad Unfamiliar Places, featuring a genuinely heartfelt performance from the band, which definitely achieves the emotional output it looks for.

 So, if Maxïmo Park served as your idea of a landfill indie band, their effort on The National Health should be enough to make you think otherwise. It's definitely a big step up for the band into more diverse and mature songwriting territory which expands upon any expectations one may have of an indie band that was big between 2005 and 2008 as the genre of indie rock became sullied by the constant emergence of watered down bands with little substance. This is not an album to be seen in such a similar way. Maxïmo Park have become truly unique on this album. It's a much cleaner album that the other bands laid out in the landfill.

 Maxïmo Park's The National Health is out on Monday via V2 Music. The band will perform at Hop Farm Music Festival 2012 in Tonbridge, Kendal Calling Festival at Lowther Castle & Gardens on 27th July and will tour the UK in November.

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