The National Health... Plus ça change
Review: Maxïmo Park – The National Health
Published on June 28th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Maxïmo Park are arguably Warp Records’ strangest signing to date by dint of being the most normal-sounding. Does their prosaically titled fourth album The National Health see the north-Easterners finally adapt to their largely electronic environment, or does it continue to plough the furrow of above-average power-pop?
Well, rueful one-minute opener “When I Was Wild” does neither, front man Paul Smith casting aspersions such as “I was just pushing buttons / I didn’t think about all of the repercussions / When I was wild, I didn’t know it but / I only answered to myself” over a muted piano ‘n’ strings vignette. This is a teeny weeny red herring, as The National Health proceeds to answer to whosoever has been demanding more Maxïmo Park out of Maxïmo Park for the last few years.
The title track works a bit of Field Music-y messing around with time signatures into its melodic blast, the lean ‘n’ mean “Hips and Lips” is aided and abetted by felty squirts of synth, a Guy Garvey-esque vocal delivery and smart lyrical touches such as “I’ve got a photofit mind / But I’m a first class forgetter”, while the ’80s-ish “Write This Down” explains itself thusly: “I learnt to love the sickly sweet in order to meet all of my body’s needs”. Okay, “sickly sweet” is pushing it, but The National Health remains firmly rooted in pop songwriting in a way that’s either playing to its strengths or lacking adventure, depending on your point of view. Either way, it’s distinctly unsurprising.
“Reluctant Love” is nicely reflective fare with a chorus refrain reminiscent of “Always Something There to Remind Me”, the thoughtful “Until the Earth Would Open” is a stand-out, its ominous declaration of “I won’t survive / Nobody does” flying in the face of this band’s continuing popularity, while the menacing baritone of “Banlieue” and crystalline piano of “This is What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” providing welcome distractions from the prevailing air of Maxïmo Park-ness.
That might read like a barbed comment, but it’s not – Maxïmo Park are undoubtedly a talented bunch, and the shady, mysterious acoustic strum of “Unfamiliar Places” shows that they’re capable of changing the pace to good effect. However, ensuing closer “Waves of Fear” reverts to their default setting of lyrical power-pop, a formula they wear well but not quite well enough to really believe Smith when he sings “You and I, we’ll overthrow these waves of fear, these tides of woe / You and I, we’ll overcome the apathetics we’ve become”. At least there’s a cool keyboard wig-out.
If you like Maxïmo Park, you’ll love this. That’s about it though, really.
Rocksucker says: Three Quails out of Five!
The National Health is out now on V2. For more information, please visit maximopark.com