Maximo Park The National Health(V2) Buy it from Insound
Of all short-lived revivals the turn of the century brought, the unanticipated return of post-punk really blew up in ways it never did when it was originally conceived. And right as it was taking off, it quickly became a parody of its former self – Interpol galvanized plenty of amateur-hour bands to steam their striped suits and knot their polka dot ties, obscure themselves with mop top hair styles and whip up some jagged, menacing riffs. Its momentary support from influential music sources was incident to a widespread epidemic of cool – though it services a sound that is hard to perfect, it certainly is one that doesn’t require much ability to emulate. For that matter, revivalists were inspired to branch out to avoid ridicule, which basically meant practicing another insular, over-utilized genre, and performance artists had no other choice but to change their act…and eventually evaporate into half-hit wonder status.
Maximo Park brought their brisk, slightly skewed tunes just as the newly enlisted post-punk movement began to fritter away. Instead of paraphrasing its core foundations, or sticking to a risky, “let’s see how it goes” major label scheme, they arrived undaunted, utterly convinced that their method would be the one that actually sticks. But they were also smart enough to play by the rules, leveling some of that frenetic behavior with large, love-riddled choruses and punctuating drum patterns, not to mention the Northern-accented vocals of bookish musicphile Paul Smith, an earnest frontman with a brazen, gung-ho quality that captures his desire to actually become a semi-household name. A Certain Trigger has stood the test of time, and a large part of it is due to how they’ve kept the likability factor high, a trait they’ve claimed even as they’ve progressively slowed down the tempo for a more systematic form of British indie rock. If the 2005 version of Maximo Park was also meant to be a passing fad as well, at least it was a convincingly executed one.
The National Health begins on a delightfully toned-down note – When I Was Wild only runs a minute, with Smith wrapping his soft, supple vocals around a tenuous piano accompaniment. It almost begins where Margins left off, with Smith channeling his affection for Mark Hollis like a final sendoff before getting back to his day job. Right away, it’s back to basic Maximo Park, as the title track rips a discharge of surging guitars and nutty piano plinks while Smith protests his dissatisfaction for his country’s social divide: the daily grind/the moral wealth/a portrait of the national health. For an album that rarely focuses on the political, the title could be taken as inconsequential. What it fiercely invokes, and madly so, is the everyday throes of love – the electro-pulsing bounce of Our Velocity-resembling Hips and Lips has Smith drawn into a conundrum of doubt and aggravation, all wittily detailed in the cryptic gestures his object of affection makes; meanwhile, the utterly starry-eyed The Undercurrents is the sort of arpeggiated guitar ballad that radio-driven bands rarely venture, or skillfully pull off, anymore.
Four albums in, it’d be invalid to suppose that Maximo Park have sought inspiration from A Certain Trigger, judging themselves as onlookers of their own past work. Though there’s an energy present that seemed to be missing from Quicken the Heart, it is a different kind of energy. They entwine themselves is a cozy knot in Reluctant Love, a straightforward mid-tempo number with a climax that’s just waiting for that spliced, one-two shot of two lovers glancing at each other before drawing into a tender embrace. To some extent, it is a cop-out argument – Smith spoils it with a chorus that couldn’t be more explicit: hold yourself against me – but the image will come to mind regardless if you’re paying attention to the words. Until the End of the World Would Open chugs in the same way Limassol does without the sizzle or the drama, illustrating a kind of passive dissension that, instead of provoking a venomous reaction, raises the certainty that things will get better. And after all, writing about a complacent relationship that’s bound for reconciliation is never as interesting as one about a feeling of self-deprecation due to deceit.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that The National Health is something of a mixed bag. It boasts some of the band’s most emotionally charged material, but just like all their efforts, it requires bearing some stiff, docile guitar melodies to discover some of its finer points. No Maximo Park record has ever been flawless, but in any way is that related to the fact that they’ve ever misfired at taking risks. And there’s still evidence of progress – they apply some pressure in the exhilaratingly murky Banlieue, while Wages of Fear has them trying a prancing, bar-band charge a la AC/DC. Nevertheless, every succeeding release has proven how dexterous they are at making one kind of song, and I’d even say they’ve mastered the art of writing coiled, five-second bridges that end far too soon. For such an angry statement, The National Health constraints to a diplomatic nicety to appease their expected audience, but wouldn’t it make a hell of a difference if they’d rebel at their own strengths for a change.13 June, 2012 - 08:50 — Juan Edgardo Rodriguez