Maxïmo Park, The National Health

Published on August 21st, 2012 in: Music, Music Reviews, New Music Tuesday, Reviews |

By Less Lee Moore

maximo park album cover

On Maxïmo Park‘s Wikipedia entry there’s a great quote about singer Paul Smith: “When he first joined we didn’t know if he could [sing]; just that he was a lunatic jumping around in a suit, it felt like the last piece of the jigsaw.” When listening to The National Health, it’s immediately obvious that serendipity was on their side. At times Smith exhibits close, sensual vocals similar to those of Martin Gore (but minus the vibrato); other times, his soaring voice has flashes of Midge Ure.

The National Health is the band’s fourth album since their debut release in 2005, but it’s my introduction to them. There are thirteen songs included, all evidence of a self-assured bunch. Maxïmo Park’s songs are buoyant and radio-friendly, boasting interesting lyrics as well as first-class musicianship.

The title track proclaims that “England is ill and it is not alone,” a remarkably Smiths-like line which seems fitting for a song criticizing the state of the nation. “Hips and Lips”—which will immediately stick to your brain—features a nice play on forgiving and forgetting: “I can’t forgive when you say forget it.” There’s more imagery in the song that takes a while to sink in, but the payoff is worth it when it does. The next song, “The Undercurrents” even has a nice callback with the line, “I won’t forget the way you forgave me.” “Write This Down” tells a story that seems like the dark side of Pulp’s “Babies,” and you’re not totally sure what’s happening, but it draws you in.

Other standouts on the album include “Banlieue,” which is loosely defined on Wikipedia as the French equivalent to the UK’s “council estates” or in the US, “the projects.” The music has a dark, New Wave quality that is compelling. “This Is What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted” is a lovesick song with a bit of a twist, in both subject matter and lyrical structure. It includes some lovely electronic piano as well. My favorite—besides the too-brief opener “When I Was Wild”—is “Unfamiliar Places,” a gorgeous song in many ways, from the evocative lyrics, to the stunning vocals from Smith, and acoustic guitar offset by shoegazey reverb.

As tight and fast as many of these songs are, I actually prefer the slower, moodier tracks. Some of the songs, while perfectly pleasant, come across as rote and even cliché compared to the more well-crafted and unique ones. In fact, there’s a great bridge in “Waves Of Fear” that comes out of nowhere and feels like a huge gust of fresh air. It’s obvious that Maxïmo Park knows what they’re doing. I just wish there were more of those kinds of musical surprises to emerge from their pool of talent.

The National Health is out today via Warp Records. You can order it from the band’s website.

To celebrate the album and the band’s upcoming US tour dates, they have partnered with Straight To The Sun Records to offer an exclusive concert ticket bundle that includes: one ticket to the US show date of your choice, free album download, and autographed physical album. Maxïmo Park ticket bundle via Straight To The Sun Records is available from here until August 31, 2012:

Tour Dates:

Sept.10: Middle East Downstairs – Boston, MA
w/The Neighbourhood, Stagnant Pools

Sept.12: World Café Live Downstairs – Philadelphia, PA
w/Stagnant Pools, Zambri

Sept. 13: Webster Hall – New York, NY
w/Stagnant Pools, Zambri

Sept. 15: U Street Music Hall – Washington, DC
w/The Neighbourhood, Stagnant Pools

Sept.17 Lincoln Hall – Chicago, IL
w/The Neighbourhood, Stagnant Pools

Sept. 20 Slim’s – San Francisco, CA
w/The Neighbourhood, Zambri

Sept. 21 El Rey Theatre – Los Angeles, CA
w/The Neighbourhood, Zambri

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