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Album Review: Maximo Park - The National Health

22nd June 2012

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Momentum is a hard thing for most bands to maintain from album to album. The need to 'grow' and 'mature' as a band can slow down even the most talented musicians as they experiment with sounds and feel out new directions.

Maximo ParkThis has certainly been the case for Maximo Park. Emerging amidst the post-punk revival in the mid-noughties along with bands such as Bloc Party and Franz Ferdinand, the band’s debut A Certain Trigger defined itself with its rocket-fast songs and intellectually stirring lyrics from front-man Paul Smith. 

But that desperate need to mature somewhat stymied their progress, as their meatier songs simply failed to resonate on their second album. The same could be said for their dismal third album, which seemed to mark a definitive downward trajectory that seemed irreparable. 

So where do you go when all other avenues have seemingly become creative cul-de-sacs? For Maximo Park the answer seems to be go back to the beginning and the punchy songs that made them popular in the first place.

Their latest effort, The National Health, marks that time when the band finally realised that what people want from them was that shot of adrenaline that fuelled their début. And it's rare for the album to let up. After a confusingly ponderous intro, the album opener and title track 'The National Health' kicks in at breakneck speed, with unrelenting guitars complimenting the manic drums and Smith's semi-singing and semi-ranting delivery.

Smith is shoved right up front and centre in the mix and with good reason. His lyrics, which have on occasion been a tad overcooked on previous outings, all fit perfectly on every track, and for the most part sum up the minutiae of relationships in ways that few lyricists seem to be able grasp at the moment.

The stand-out song is 'The Undercurrents', with its refrain of “I won't forget the way you forgave me” seeming to encapsulate that passive-aggressive compromise that is sometimes necessary to end an argument. The awkwardness that is embedded in the beginnings, middles and ends of relationships is something that Smith more than understands, and his confessional and upfront lyrical style lead to a pathos that provides the heart among the angular throwback that is the music.

That's not to say that the album is perfect. The repetitive nature of the music means that the latter half begins to wear thin, and despite the fact that this is Maximo Park in their most enjoyable guise it's difficult not to listen and feel that the album as a whole is little more than a thorough going over of the same ground.

While their song-writing craft has improved since their first album - both lyrically, melodically and musically - this is really more of a minor variation of their best songs than anything wholly different. The band have clearly got their energy back and it makes for an enjoyable listen. Let's just hope that they can modify that energy into something different for their next album.

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