October 16, 2021

Maximo Park – “Nature Always Wins” – how to keep doing that rock thing after the dizzy days of hedonism and youth

PROLIFICA INC 26th February, 2021

It is sixteen years on from the indie thrill of the debut album and watching Paul Smith do scissor kicks while Duncan Lloyd span and jumped, yet Maximo Park remind us of that, along with an acknowledgement that we’ve all grown up a bit since then. Following both Smith and Lloyd releasing well-received but, to my ears, slightly dull albums, it seems that if you put them with the rest of the band and stand back, an indie energy flickers back. Combining choppy riffs, introspection, a spot of self-laceration and some catchy choruses, this is a worthy release.

Despite working in different sites, the band have put together an energetic album that is mature. I’m not sure how they retain a punch when COVID necessitated the band all working remotely but they did. Their producer, Ben Allen, had them put together forty songs and the ones that made the cut are strong.

‘Versions Of You’ is speedy & reflective, while ‘Baby Sleep’ is punchy and fun. The first half of the album sets out to show the band have that lift and push they always had. Yet who would’ve thought the band would be writing a song about a having a baby and the disconnect from previous life. There’s a great sense of making it (parenting) up as you go along, paralleling the thrill of being a star in the early days. As Paul Smith says “So here it was the idea of sleep deprivation making everything take on a surreal tint – like watching basketball live from America at two in the morning. Or pushing a child round Eldon Square shopping centre in Newcastle in a daze.” Some distance from the sleep deprivation of touring and parties. “How on earth do these things creep up on you?” There is a thematic link to ‘I Don’t Know What I’m Doing’. An energetic rush of riffs and beats, it is a song about self-doubt and child-rearing.

Half way through we hit ‘Ardour’ and it’s nice to hear Pauline Murray from Penetration in the background. “Still swiping in my sleep”, sings Smith, “still scrolling in my sleep – what’s become of me?” We all know where he’s coming from. The concerns here aren’t love, friendships and ambition, like they used to be, they are songs about getting older, about adult responsibilities, about being the same person inside but living in a different world. ‘Why Must A Building Burn’ follows on from the concerns of the last album, issued at peak-Brexit debate; “Do you need a flag, to know who you are?” It addresses the anger that the powers that be do nothing till it is too late. The building in question is Grenfell and so many other issues left neglected till metaphorically on fire.

In the end, the adult concerns are summed up in the title: Nature Always Wins. Paul Smith says; “You can’t fight against nature, whether it’s human nature or the environment…. When you give birth to anything, whether it’s a child or an album, you betray who you are in that process.” And the result is this set of songs about accepting change but keeping that energy.

This is an example of how to keep doing that rock thing well after the dizzy days of hedonism and youth.