The Maccabees ‘Given to the Wild’ – Review

6 Feb

I feel a bit sorry for bands that release albums in January. At the time they get critically lauded and often sell a reasonable amount, but this is often only because so very few artists release records in January. This simple fact explains how groups like White Lies and Delphic have had top five albums that are forgotten by December, list season, and rarely sell more than a few thousand in the long-term. There are odd exceptions though; some acts use the lack of big releases to great effect, and the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend and Adele have had massive hit albums in January that benefited hugely from lack of competition. This is why Fiction have released The Maccabees third album this month, in the absence of any competition from other bands.

And fairplay to them, it’s worked; ‘Given to the Wild’ reached number 5 in the chart. Ok, that’s a bit misleading, fewer albums were sold this January than in any other month on record, so it can’t have been hard for a moderately established group to break the top ten. That said it’s still a well deserved reward for a group that have been steadily touring and making music for half a decade now. They’ve followed a similar path to another modern indie band, The Horrors. Both groups went from underrated and misunderstood debutants to critically acclaimed but commercially troubled second album contenders. With album number three both groups have gone even further down unusual avenues with much greater success commercially but with albums that are more difficult to love. Overall ‘Given to the Wild’ is ambitious, hit and miss, and slightly underwhelming.

The Maccabees sound as if they’re playing in the middle of a desert or field on a hot summer’s day, perhaps like the one on the cover. The sound is soaked in reverb, the mix is spacious, allowing every instrument room to breath, and nothing sounds rushed or busy. Because of this production, ‘Given to the Wild’ is an atmospheric record that does a fantastic job of showing off Orlando’s increasingly stunning vocals (check out his angelic tones on ‘Went Away’). However, before you get too excited, you should be warned that he doesn’t have a lot of note to say with that wonderful voice.

Or rather, he doesn’t quite know how to express exactly what he wants to say. I know from interviews that, to Orlando at least, this is an album about growing up; all his friends have been getting married and having babies, which has made him reflect on the past, as well as the present and his future. These themes are occasionally evident  in songs like ‘Grew up at Midnight’ and ‘Feel to Follow’, but too often the lyrics are vague and oddly cryptic. I heard that they wanted to make the British version of ‘The Suburbs’, an album by a band (Arcade Fire) concerned with almost identical ideas, but a band that is able to articulate them in a much more emotive and detailed way.

But it’s a shame to be quite so negative from the off. This is a lush album that is rich in musical detail and brimming with well-meaning ideas. The harmonies are consistently impressive, particularly on album stand out, and first single, ‘Pelican.’ I was a huge fan of the group’s furious and fun debut, as well as their slightly awkward but interesting second album ‘Wall of Arms’, but the progression from those records to this one, in certain respects at least, is quite astonishing. They’ve really matured from post-Arctic Monkeys wannabees to genuinely innovative and thoughtful musicians.

All of this comes at  a price though. Despite being a beautifully produced album, with stunning vocals and intricate arrangements, ‘Given to the Wild’ suffers from a simple but devastating flaw – it’s just a bit boring. The Maccabees are a great band and they display all the signs of having a great album in them, but ‘Given to the Wild’ isn’t it; it just takes itself far too seriously. Where is anything as catchy as ‘Toothpaste Kisses’? Anything as infectious as ‘Latchmere’? Anything as anthemic as ‘Love You Better’? Far too often these songs melt into the background or drift into the realm of ambience, which is surprising as one thing The Maccabees have never been is yawn inducing. Still, overall, ‘Given to the Wild’ is filled with promise, and it does nothing to change my mind in one respect;the best is yet to come from this band.

6.5/10

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