Maxïmo Park Our Earthly Pleasures

[Warp; 2007]

Styles: Britpop, savvy post-punk, literate bookworm rock
Others: The Futureheads, The Jam, Kaiser Chiefs, The Smiths

The worst thing that could happen to the lads in Maxïmo Park, and which most likely has already occurred in the minds and mind’s eyes of people all across this land of milk and honey, is to get lumped into the category of the revivalist UK post-punk movement and systematically brushed aside with large double-sided brooms. Championed by blowhards like The Arctic Monkeys and merry chaps like The Futureheads, it’s a category Maxïmo Park fall into by happenstance. But the continued quality of their output and divergence from the staple sneers and guitar licks of the genre in favor of poetry and prose show that these cats have an elephant’s load more to offer.

Maxïmo Park have plucked their hearts out from underneath their chest plates and carved them with poignant knives, producing a set of 12 personalized Valentine’s cards that you’ll (hopefully) be able to pick up at any major record retail outfit. Our Earthly Pleasures, the successor to A Certain Trigger (which stands aptly as 2005’s contender for “well I didn’t see that coming” record of the year), barrels over the sophomore slump and wipes away their old song repertoire like crumbs. Each one of the smooth cuts on the disc beat out anything they’ve penned previously, so mashed all together it’s an unmerciful smoothie that won’t even melt to syrup in the warm spring air.

Our Earthly Pleasures is a continuation on the themes of adolescence and melodrama present in their debut (and instantly familiar to Moz fans the world over), but this time songwriter/vocalist Paul Smith faceplants them to the mat with a more matured approach. He transplants the ideas to a slightly older crowd, and the crowd is one that can’t get lucky in love for the love of everything. “Girls Who Play Guitars” appears to revel in youthful pastiche, with coy lines like “I could be who you wanted in the dark,” but a sentiment a little more glum and level-headed is brimming right below the surface: one focused on the dreams and plans that didn’t pan out. In contrast to the painfully oblivious affection present in songs like “Graffitti” and “The Coast Is Always Changing,” songs on the new record like “Books From Boxes” find themselves on the opposite side of the spectrum with a whole lot less enthusiasm: (“You have to leave/ I appreciate that/ But I hate when conversation slips out of our grasp).” But in this case, simply being mopey doesn’t designate any maturity; it’s the 20-something brand of wisdom that shows the evolution in lines like, “Two bodies in motion/ This is a matter of fact/ It wasn't built to last.” It’s a little different from the Smith who wanted you to stay during the last go-around.

The songs have a tendency for reaching crashing heights at a rate hitherto unheard, musically and emotionally. “Russian Literature,” “By The Monument,” and “Parisian Skies” share this tendency for bombast, and are some of the record’s best for it. “Sandblasted and Set Free” is introduced and concluded by a charming string arrangement, sandwiching a quality tune about taking chances and making choices in-between. Initial single “Our Velocity” and “The Unshockable” are the mutant new-wave juggernauts of the lot, rocking young ears to paralysis, and the songs clearly ended up this way due to the same ooze that made four unsuspecting turtles minding their own business into pizza-loving ninja vigilantes.

I hesitate to give such a glowing inspection of any album, as it’s vital to distinguish criticism from excitement, but I’m hard-pressed to find any glaring flaws in the sheen. Not a song on Our Earthly Pleasures is a clunker, and for what it aspires to be, it hits all the right marks and makes all the right moves. It announces itself proudly/loudly within the first handful of seconds on the first track and continues unflinchingly until the album’s conclusion. Maximo Park are tighter than ever -- Smith’s lost some of the whine and brashness from his delivery and now carries a tune with the power of his confidence. The scant 41-minutes-plus running time doesn’t overstay its welcome, either, leaving the listener desiring more hooks and synth twinkles. It doesn’t break any new ground, but it’s not a retread. It’s just good, for you and your soul. And when the banality of new music gets your goat and has you coughing up lungs (thankfully not a problem in an already stellar 2007), Smith and Co.’s iodine pearls of music are the right suppressant to make the ache dissipate.

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