Maximo Park Quicken The Heart(Warp) Buy it from Insound
Over the last twelve months, it seems that a trend has arisen where after the “difficult second album” you have the “even more difficult third album.” New wave Geordies, Maximo Park, burst onto the scene in the middle of the decade with A Certain Trigger, three months after Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm and a year after Franz Ferdinand’s eponymous début. All three were Mercury nominated (and in the case of Franz Ferdinand, actually won the poisoned chalice of an award) and, if you were to believe the press at the time, heralded a new age in British rock. The media fell over themselves in thrall to the 80s influences, the jerky rhythms, the synths and the fact there was boys with guitars playing music you could actually dance to.
In the cold light of day, that all seemed a bit premature. All three bands struggled with their follow-ups (Maximo Park’s Our Earthly Pleasures, Bloc Party’s A Weekend In The City and Franz Ferdinand’s You Could Have It So Much Better…) and this worrying trend has continued for Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party on their recent third efforts (Tonight and Intimacy respectively). These albums may have peaked in the upper reaches of the charts and had impressive first-week sales figures, but fell away relatively quickly as the former flavours of the month struggle to conjure up something to beat that “shock of the new” when first albums can sell tens of thousands on little more than industry hype.
So, onto Quicken The Heart. Initial listens suggest that Maximo Park intend to recapture past glories by doing the same as they have before, yet with more maturity and less intensity. Whether the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach is a good or bad thing is up to you; it never seemed to do AC/DC any harm, for example. However, as the melodies seep into your brain, Quicken The Heart reveals itself to be professional and adept, if not exhilarating and ground-breaking.
Frontman Paul Smith is one of the great performers and characters of the 21st Century (he reportedly asks for a Vivienne Westwood tie and “mystery paperback” on the rider at gigs) but he’s more restrained than usual here. It’s a shame since when he gives it his all, like on album highlight A Cloud of Mystery, it’s a joy to the ears.
Lead single, The Kids Are Sick Again, isn’t particularly arresting upon first hearing, and its subject of “the effect of advertisements on the youth of today” is unlikely to have you racing to the iTunes Store. However, like much of Quicken The Heart, give it time and its charms - in this case, a great off-kilter chorus - reveal themselves to you.
It’s tempting to suggest this album is world-weary and Maximo Park are going through the motions - maybe Quicken The Heart is a response to A Certain Trigger? They’re older and wiser, but as a result, more jaded and cynical. Who knows? What remains clear is that on eleven of the twelve tracks showcased, Smith still has a keen eye for detail. Tanned is probably the best example of this, as it describes how “Summer glazed our skin, but it scorched everything” and “she kept her jeans on in bed.”
Whilst Tanned and plenty others do a good job of chronicling young lust, Let’s Get Clinical, is wretched and the only excuse for it is that Maximo Park want the “Bad Sex In Fiction” award to be extended to music as well as literature. Now, a quick word of advice: any girl who can be seduced by lines such as “I’d like to map your body out, inch by inch, North to South, and I’m free for circumnavigation” is either a lonely and desperate fetishist, a dangerous axe murderer or more likely, both. The pay-off line of “Bare ankles used to mean adventure, with you they still do” may hark back to simpler times but by then, Let’s Get Clinical will have left you feeling so sordid you’ll want to take a shower.
Quicken The Heart has lots going for it and represents a more grown-up sound for Maximo Park. However, there’s an unshakeable feeling that they’re going through the motions a bit too frequently and that this represents a step backwards for a once fresh and exciting band. Unfortunately, it seems the curse of the third album may have struck again.