“All my dreams are contradictions” sings Paul at the opening. I wouldn’t agree – he seems to be doing pretty well. After a previous solo album that lacked in impact, this nicely marries the style Smith developed with Maximo Park, with a new and slightly more relaxed musical territory. Break Me Down, for example, despite busy drums, has a gentle strumming feel and a down-to-earth subject. Paul Smith’s Middlesborough voice gives the faster songs a clear character and, somehow, an authenticity. “Betting slips and the latest tips – what would you like to be?” he asks. Authentic what, I wonder, on some of the madder songs. Reintroducing the Red Kite, indeed. There are arty touches to the lyrics, as ever and a nicely placed sense of observation.
Four years in the writing and making, Contradictions is a much happier and speedier album than the inward-looking Margins that was his first solo album (though there was a Field Music collaboration last year as well). Many songs are short and the whole is snappy. The drumming is often double-speed and rushing, though the tension of the dashing guitar riffs of Maximo Park is missed. Instead we get more of the personal touches, the intimacies of life – “When we got back to my house, we forgot to put the duvet cover on. We played a waiting game”. People On Sunday has a Pulp-ish sense of nostalgia for a world still within reach. “The only real promise is the one you keep” he sings on The Mezzanine, amongst everyday imagery. Everyday might be the apposite word for this album. There is something relaxed about it that makes it a pleasant listen without overstimulating the senses like early Maximo Park. At the same time, it bears daily listening, getting frequent plays on my journey to work.
Contradictions is the sound of Paul Smith working out what niche he wants to sit in and settling into it, like a cat turning round on a cushion.