Maxïmo Park - The National Health
Every once in a while an album comes along that just feels like it's been sprinkled with magic gold dust. LCD Soundsystem's Sounds Of Silver, for example. Or Destroyer's Kaputt. Maxïmo Park have had this moment. A Certain Trigger had some indefinable quality that made it inherently amazing without any form of stylistic progression, or any unique trail-blazing behaviour. It was just Maxïmo Park recording an album in their style and somehow it became a cult hero. The unfortunate reality of a situation like this is that it is extremely hard to replicate, due to the fact you're not really sure how you did it in the first place. I liken it to an elite athlete who ran their absolute best time 3 or 4 years ago and has forever since been chasing that form. Maxïmo Park have peaked.
I'm not suggesting that this record is a depleted and drawn out event. The National Health may fall victim to the band's goal of replicating their debut, but this does not mean it is boring, played out, or unlistenable. In fact it is an energetic, adrenalin-fuelled romp through the style that they have made their own.With the exception of the perplexing opener, When I Was Wild, a piano and string duet to which Smith sings some form of vocalists plea, 'must the artist bleed, over the new production?'. He appears to be taking a shot at record labels stifling his own voice and his own creative vision, it's an interesting way to start a record. Because of this, skip straight to track 2, the title track. It's a throbbing affair that leaves you slightly breathless at the end of the 3 minutes. A perfect concert opener, complete with Van Halen levels of piano and feedback-based guitar to add to its epicness.
The piano is an unsung hero in this album. Upon first listen you're drawn in to the rip tide of aggressive drumming and frenetic strumming. It doesn't appear in every song, which is a positive because Smith's ability to drive and shape a song seems to disappear when presented with a piano, no matter how far in the background. The Undercurrents seems to meander along with no hurry or direction and Smith feels like he is being dragged along behind. In complete contrast, Hips and Lips is forced along by a forceful and aggressive vocal performance, culminating in the orgasm of synth, guitar and drums that is the chorus as Smith announces 'the way you stick out your lips / and keep your hands on the hips / and i'm supposed to know / and i'm supposed to know' His delivery is slightly deadpan, the groundwork he lays beforehand propels this song forward.
We're also handed a nice dollop of synth to mix in with the dirty guitars and tortured drum kit. Write This Down utilises a simple synth riff supported by stuttering bursts of guitar and Smith's ever present personality, 'Here's an entry for your diary:dictation - are you ready? I'm not gonna be around'. Wolf Among Men is a stunning 1980s synth-rock throwback worthy of The Killers or, higher praise still, Devo. Again, Smith feels as though he is caught up in a frenzy of sound that he didn't create and isn't sure how to deal with. He catches up for a nice chorus performance before losing touch again with a disjointed sounding effort. Until The Earth Would Open see's him slightly more comfortable, a song reminiscient of The Coast Is Always Changing. The tempo change gives the impression of an upturn of fortune and senitment as Smith joins in with a careering but focused effort. It's the track that sounds the most like their debut record even if it does feel forced and unnatural.
5/10. A solid but uninspiring effort from a band that has the right formula, just hasn't found the right process. There are 5 or 6 very good songs on here, extremely listenable, however the rest are fillers and quite tiresome. It's an album that feels forced. A Certain Trigger was so natural, it smacked of effortless ability. Rather than drawing a line under that and attempting to move onwards and upwards, Maxïmo Park have consistently tried to recreate the spark and the magic of their first album. It's led to a career of slight disappointments, and this release is not immune. Even the best tracks on the album are the best because they sound like the debut, and when you're recording your 4th album that is a dangerous place to still be. Hopefully evolution awaits these boys because they are very talented.
Best Tracks: The National Health, Hips and Lips, Until The Earth Would Open, Reluctant Love