Monday, 11 June 2012

Flynndie Reviews - Blog #26: Maxïmo Park - The National Health

Written 11th June 2012

Maxïmo Park – The National Health

The Band: Paul Smith (vocals), Duncan Lloyd (guitar/backing vocals), Archis Tiku (bass), Lukas Wooller (keyboards/backing vocals), Tom English (drums)

So today sees the return of one of my favourite bands, Maxïmo Park with their 4th album ‘The National Health’.  The band arrived on the Indie scene back around 2005 with the release of their debut album ‘A Certain Trigger’, which for me is a true Indie classic and genuinely one of my favourite albums of the past decade with classic tracks ‘Apply Some Pressure’, ‘Graffiti’, ‘Going Missing’ and ‘The Coast is always Changing’, I’ve listened to the album more than I could ever remember and still enjoy it to this day and would always recommend to check it out.  The band then followed up this great debut record with the more mature sounding but still high-tempo, solid albums ‘Our Earthly Pleasures’ in 2007 and then subsequently in 2009 their 3rd album ‘Quicken the Heart’, another great two albums under the band’s repertoire and thus establishing themselves as a firm favourite with Indie Kids across the Nation, which brings us nicely to today’s review subject ‘The National Health’.

The Waiting List

1.   When I was Wild
2.   The National Health
3.   Hips and Lips
4.   The Undercurrents
5.   Write this Down
6.   Reluctant Love
7.   Until the Earth would open
8.   Banlieue
9.   This is what becomes of the Brokenhearted
10. Wolf among Men
11. Take me Home
12. Unfamiliar Places
13. Waves of Fear

So, with the band’s reputation for frantic, fast-paced and fun guitar records, things get underway on ‘The National Health’ with opening track ‘When I was Wild’……a minute’s long piano-ballad! Ha! This was somewhat of a surprise for me when initially listening to the album but actually I think this sets the tone nicely for the record as a whole, with Paul’s delicate tones complimenting Lukas’ sweet piano piece nicely, before the much more familiar, upbeat, frantic tempo of ‘The National Health’ comes crashing into the record.  This is distinctly recognisable Maxïmo Park territory here, and the band’s first-ever title-track, with Duncan’s guitar riff achieving 0-60mph within a split-second of the song opening and dueling for supremacy on the track with keys from Lukas and bass from Archis, all why Paul’s lyrics literally “Paint a portrait, of the National Health” here.  3rd track and previous single ‘Hips and Lips’ again, like opening track ‘When I was Wild’, shows that on this record in particular, the band have made more of an attempt to expand the boundaries of their sound somewhat more than they have done on their previous records, with an altogether different sounding track than those of their past, with a track that slowly, builds and burns at the listener with it’s quite electronic, almost techno sounding vibes buzzing through it.  The synth’s like sound to this track give it a more of a darker, somewhat sinister feel for a Maxïmo Park track but it’s a sound I quite like and I love the video for it featuring a certain young Thomas Turgoose, also recognisable as Shaun from the film and TV series ‘This Is England’ which you can watch at the bottom of this review.

‘The Undercurrents’ follows and this for me is a real standout track by the band and really shows a much more mature sounding track from them, with gentle flowing guitars and keys, before a quite distinct bass carries the opening of the track, as Paul’s lyrics create the picture of a couple’s relationship under the strain of busy lifestyles with lyrics “We both have a lot on our plates” and “Somehow the work was worth the wait“ indicating a hint at “The Undercurrents” that forms the track’s title.  With another distinctly synth feel to it, ‘Write this Down’ is next and is back on the more familiar Maxïmo Park track with verses that flow along nicely, before the big sounding, sing-along chorus the band are highly recognised for in the past.  ‘Reluctant Love’ follows and wow, this track really has a charm of its own!  Showing the softer side of the band, as the gentle guitar and bass and rhythm of the track takes the listener by the hand and out for a romantic date, it’s no secret that this is another track that focuses on a couple’s relationship, but such is the smoothness of the track it’s hard to but anything, fall for it’s somewhat romantic charm.  Things get a bit more up-tempo again with ‘Until the Earth would open’.  This is another easy-flowing track for the listener and again has somewhat of a cheeky little charm about itself, with an incredible catchy guitar riff and rhythm pulsating through it before the catchy chorus hooks the listener.

However, after the cheeky charm of the last two tracks ‘Banlieue’ again hints at a slightly darker, menacing sound for the band with its jagged guitar riff throughout it and distant effect used on Paul’s vocals during its verses.  Here we have a track that sees the band getting a little more psychedelic, again what I would consider some newfound territory for a Maxïmo Park track but again another sound the band seems to pull off effortlessly.  ‘This is what becomes of the Brokenhearted’ sees the fully-fledged piano ballad on the album that the band hinted at earlier with their opening-track that again is not subtle in its attempts to woo and charm the pants of the listener, which it succeeds to do with the great care and attention that has clearly gone into this track.  ‘Wolf among Men’ gets us all up and rocking again, with guitar and synths swirling around each other and pulling the listener along for the ride, it has such a carefree sound about it, you can’t help but smile and dance like-a-loon while listening to it (or maybe that was just me then!)

Upon hearing 10th track ‘Take me Home’, I initially felt this track had somewhat of a ‘Wild West’ vibe to it but clearly we’re talking in a good manner here.  The piano’s and guitar in particular on this track remind me somewhat of the type of sound R.E.M. were creating on their 1991 album ‘Out of Time’ and I can’t help but picture the band taking over the Grand Piano in a saloon bar and having a good-old fashioned hoedown with this track.  What follows next is quite simply an outstanding track with ‘Unfamiliar Places’.  Just a good old-fashioned stripped-down acoustic track, with both the most softly sung vocals and guitar on the album, this is the perfect track to listen to alone as the rain beats down hard on a window pane, it’s without question the most emotional track on the album and possibly Maxïmo Park’s most tender track to-date, it really pulls at the heart-strings of the listener.  Closing track ‘Waves of Fear’ leaves the album finishing in a trademark Maxïmo Park fun, frolicking rock-out as was always very much the case with previous albums and as so remains the case here.  With fast paced guitar and frantic keys towards the closing of the track it ensures the album closes on another high.

So overall, this 4th album ‘The National Health’ sees Maxïmo Park remain at the top of the game and if anything, their 3-year break since their last album ‘Quicken the Heart’ in 2009, I think the group have even evolved more since then and this album as a collective whole really shows the band at the height of their song-writing ability since their debut album ‘A Certain Trigger’ in my opinion.  However, this record is very much a different kind of animal to their debut album and their more recent past two records, with the band really pushing at the peak of their musical prism.  I honestly think you would be quite hard pushed to find many bands that pack quite a range of different sounding guitar tracks into a 40-minute record, with what comes across after listening, as somewhat at an ease to them.  There is a lot to take in on this record, providing a depth that I’m hoping will see me listening to it for quite a while to come yet.  I’m going to award this record 9 Stethoscopes out of 10 here as I’m already impressed by this album after my first few initial listens and am already now counting down the days until I go and see the band play at the Shepherds Bush Empire later this November.

On the NHS

Track 3 ‘Hips and Lips’

Track 4 ‘The Undercurrents’ (acoustic) – Mahogany Session

Track 6 ‘Reluctant Love’ (acoustic) – Mahogany Session