Maxïmo Park Quicken The Heart

[Warp; 2009]

Styles:  post-punk
Others: The Futureheads, The Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party

In 2005, Maxïmo Park released A Certain Trigger, their Mercury Prize-nominated debut full-length full of sharp, short little songs that were more absorbing and creative than most of the post-punk efforts that emerged in the clamor to pick up The Strokes’ baton. The follow-up, Our Earthly Pleasures, didn’t depart from lead singer Paul Smith’s expressive howls and lyrically packed reminiscences, but the songs were cleaner, poppier, and sometimes weirder. On this third release, Nick Launay (Arcade Fire, Public Image Ltd., Talking Heads, Gang of Four, Grinderman) produces, bringing along the cosmic sheen he gave to the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s latest, It’s Blitz!.

Launay’s prints are all over “The Kids Are Sick Again,” which is full of swooning resolves and over-the-top vocal effects that don’t particularly jibe with Smith’s aesthetic. His voice is raw and unbound and always will be. Unique and in full command of the listener on the band’s demo and first release, Smith has since been invaded by oozing production qualities, which obscure but don’t totally erase the fact that the band has serious songwriting talent. They’ve used a different producer on each of their albums — Paul Epworth manned A Certain Trigger and Gil Norton Our Earthly Pleasures — which is kind of a sad testament to the stark results that come into relief depending on which producer is rubbing the surface. It’s still the same band, but the stylistic flitting around suggests a lack of confidence, sales, or both.

“Let’s Get Clinical” takes the pressure off, returning to the bass-up, treble-down formula of the band’s earlier work and, more importantly, building a lovely melody on top of the verse’s jerky arpeggios and bridge’s poppy yelps of “Ooh/ It’s criminal/ Oh, let’s get clinical.” The chorus gets serious with a key shift, and the silly lyrics start to sound quite earnest: “I’d like to map your body out/ Inch by inch/ North to south/ And I’m free for circumnavigation.” It was little works of art like this that made frequent appearances on both A Certain Trigger and the band’s promising bonus release, Missing Songs. But when the band tries too hard to be anthemic, as on “Roller Disco Dreams” and “Questing, Not Coasting,” they fail, hovering between their own vision and Launay’s. On simpler songs like “I Haven’t Seen Her In Ages,” it seems as if the band made an agreement to let Launay transform a handful of tracks into singles and ignore the rest. The song’s nice little key shifts are surely Maxïmo Park, but rhythmically, the track is overly relaxed and lacks the adventure of some of the more churning, enjoyably busy songs of yesteralbum.

Many of the songs don’t jut out enough from the band’s archives. Cute lyrics suggestive of intimate romantic moments, like “Her mother let me stay/ After the disco made us deaf” (“Tanned”), always help, but the song only approximates the melodic intricacy of older tracks like “Limassol,” “I Want You To Stay,” or “Going Missing,” and the kinds of effects that crowd the radio waves — synths, that is — keep elbowing their way in, maligning the guitars and vocals. It feels as if Smith is drawing from long-gone, innocent, pre-fame events in his life, but as they recede, his stance becomes more wistful and increasingly confused. The music, unfortunately, follows suit.

1. Wraithlike
2. The Penultimate Clinch
3. The Kids Are Sick Again
4. A Cloud Of Mystery
5. Calm
6. In Another World (You Would've Found Yourself By Now)
7. Let's Get Clinical
8. Roller Disco Dreams
9. Tanned
10. Questing, Not Coasting
11. Overland, West Of Suez
12. I Haven't Seen Her In Ages

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