The Maccabees ‘Marks to Prove It’ – Review

26 Aug

The maccabees have had an interesting career arc; from indie-pop scallywags to introverted art rockers, it seems the grittier their sound becomes the more records they sell. ‘Marks to Prove It’ continues the trend by being their most uncommercial yet most successful album to date. But while fans seem to lap up the new stuff, I find it slightly disappointing that a band once known for their fizzy, energetic songs have become so dowdy only four albums in.

In a recent interview with BBC breakfast, Felix claimed (perhaps hyperbolically) that the maccabees have been working on ‘Marks to Prove It’ every day for three years. He also said the eleven songs that ended up on the record were the only ones written In that time, which (if we are to take Felix at his word) works out at roughly 90 days spent on each track – about the same length of time The Beatles spent on The White Album. Upon listening to the record it’s difficult to say how exactly that time was spent – probably on getting the lush sounds just so, but not on the songwriting, which is generally weak. The melodies are often forgettable and the words are typically vague and non committal – themes and motifs are easy to detect (anxiety with modern life, booze as escape, claustrophobia, deceptive appearances) but the patchwork lyrics are cryptic beyond sense. Which is a shame, because Orlando clearly has a lot to say, and he has one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary indie rock with which to say it

Opening track, ‘Marks to Prove It’ sets the tone for the record. It describes people going about their everyday lives, secretly feeling depressed, shamed in to denial but craving some sort of acknowledgment. The maccabees seem equally unsure about what they really feel, and how to present those feelings. They frantically storm through the track with none of the ingenuity or melodicism of their early work, but rather with a newly found anger and despondency. It’s a red herring as far as the music goes; things get decidedly less grungy as the record moves forward until its cut glass clarity and spaciousness becomes the album’s ultimate defining feature.

The band are still at their best when they are at their most tuneful. Lead single ‘Something Like Happiness’ pairs the album’s best hook with an uptempo, horn filled arrangement and simple lyric. It still speaks to modern’s society’s ills (in this case envy, uncertainty and cynicism) but it does so in a way that is thoughtful, direct and nicely sentimental. Sentimentality has always been at the heart of Orlando’s songwriting and it’s there in parts. It’s in the kind of twisted ode to friendship, ‘Kamakura’, and the chiming guitars of gorgeous finale ‘Dawn Chorus.’ They need more of this bleeding heart honesty and less of the faux-poetic grandeur.

There are points on this album where the band sparkle as brightly as they’ve ever done but those moments are overshadowed by the darker and less interesting songs. Like many directors in Hollywood right now, The Maccabees seem to equate darkness with authenticity and therefore assume that serious, interesting art needs to be gloomy. In fact the lack of humour and colour makes this a tough album to sit through, and it simply isn’t credible or sophisticated in its bleakness. ‘Marks to Prove It’ is a fairly bland and boring album from a band capable of producing so much more if only they weren’t insistent on taking themselves so seriously.

5/10

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