The View / Maximo Park – Review

3 Aug

That a band like Maximo Park, signed to the furiously independent and cutting edge Warp records, could once routinly score top ten singles and albums, feels hard to believe in 2012. That The View could bruise the number 1 position in the singles chart and score one of the biggest selling albums of 2006, is harder still to imagine. In the wake of subsequent failures, both bands have been unfairly dumped on the ‘indie landfill’ (a phrase that became common currency to describe the overload of indie pop bands that dominated the charts between 2004-2008). I’ve never liked that disparaging term, because as poor as some of those bands were, it was an enviable position to be in. Afterall, better to have a chart filled by guitar groups than a chart filled with David Guetta impersonators, as we have today.

Maximo Park have certainly struggled to match the, not inconsiderate, heights of their still impressive debut, whilst The View have lived in the shadow of a certain song for years now. Both these bands face problems that are a direct, and unfortunate, result of their own early successes. They hit upon their winning formulas very early on, and with neither group seemingly willing to push the boat out in new directions, they’re faced with the unenviable task of trying to better their early stuff whilst working very much along the same lines. Luckily both bands are back with some of their strongest material in half a decade.

The View have built upon the power pop foundations laid by last year’s surprisingly assured comeback album ‘Bread and Circuses’ with a new record of simple but effective anthems that play to the band’s ‘everyman’ strengths. I loved The View’s last album but I thought it would have been better if it had been produced by somebody, anybody, other than Youth, a producer whose maximalist, grandiose style clashed with The View’s earthy sound. Maybe they listened to me, cos ‘Cheeky For a Reason’ is a back to basics record that dispenses with the synths, choirs, strings and kitchen sink in favour of meat and potatos guitar, bass, drums. Which doesn’t make this ‘ramshackle’, in fact it’s a highly considered and well made piece of work, It’s just that this time it sounds like the songs are being played by human beings, not robots.

‘How Long’ kicks off the record in an impressive fashion, its spritley, catchy and tuneful – pretty much everything The View at their best have ever been. The group are performing better than ever and Kyle is certainly a much improved singer, his confidence showing on slower songs like ‘Tacky Tatoo’ and ‘The Clock’. Despite these positive developments, tune for tune this isn’t the band’s strongest collection of songs. It lacks a classic along the lines of ‘Superstar Tradesmen’ or ‘Same Jeans’ and it’s more inconsistent than last year’s ‘Bread and Circuses’. Still, overall this is a solid fourth album and The View remain one of the most likeable guitar groups in the country.

Maximo Park have been on a much longer break than The View, over three years now, in which time they have indulged in some questionable side projects. Lead singer Paul Smith released a solo album that was, er, slightly embarrassing (to say the least). Despite that trip up, Smith has a fierce reputation as an astute lyricist and he has a point to prove after poor reviews of that solo album and the group’s last release ‘Quicken the Heart’.

On the opening track Smith promises to paint a portrait of the national health, but this is a red herring, he fails to paint a definitive portrait of his own state of mind, let alone that of the nation; instead he sketches a complex, contradictory and uncertain picture. This is no bad thing though, his lyrics have always presented him as a curious, inquisitive and undecided observer, rather than someone with all the answers. Like the solo album, most of the lyrics concern his love life but observations hit the mark with much more regularity. On the first single he sings ‘The way you stick out your lips and keep your hands on your hips / Am I supposed to know what that means? You’re a puzzle to me and you always will be’, which goes to confirm Smith’s loveably clueless nature. In the lyrics to this song he displays a self-awareness not present on his indulgent and blindsided solo work (It’s also a funny statement about the lack of communication between the sexes).

Smith’s lyrical mojo is back, and ‘Reluctant Love’, ‘This is What Becomes of the Broken Hearted’ and ‘The Undercurrents’ are particularly evocative and well thought through. Musically as well the band are back to their best, which in their case usually works out as the faster the better. There’s nothing quite as catchy as ‘Graffiti’ or ‘Going Missing’ but over 13 songs this is their most consistent, enjoyable and provoking record since their first. The album ends with the sprightly ‘Waves of Fear’ where Smith concludes ‘what a world this is, and we don’t know what to do with it’. The drums bang, the synth shines, the guitars snarl and Smith wrestles with uncertainty; It’s an apt ending to the album.

Neither The View or Maximo Park could be described as being particularly ‘original’ or ‘unique’ and both groups are recycling sounds that aren’t even new to themselves, let along guitar music in general. That said, there is something to be said for bands making well crafted indie pop, even in 2012. Both bands have the ability to make you think that originality is overrated, and I’m glad to see them back at their (near) best.

The View ”Cheeky For a Reason’ – 6.5/10

Maximo Park ‘The National Health’ – 7.5/10

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