In pop music, it’s an unfortunate fact that sometimes timing can be everything. When Maxïmo Park had released their debut A Certain Trigger, The Kaiser Chiefs, The Futureheads, Bloc Party, Field Music and Franz Ferdinand had already saturated the market with wiry, post-punk influenced Britpop, thus leaving certain critics with little room for any similar-minded artists. Those who hadn’t immediately dismissed the group as `more of the same’ were rewarded with a half-hour of some of the most exciting punk pop to be birthed from the British Isles in some time. Two years later, time is on the Newcastle quintet’s side, as their peers have all, in some way or another, left a void that only a breakneck new wave group such as themselves could fill. Bloc Party and The Futureheads have mellowed considerably, while The Kaiser Chiefs have moved a bit away from their good time Jam-isms and Field Music have basically called it quits. As it turns out, we could use Maxïmo Park more than anyone could have expected.
Maxïmo Park’s sophomore release, Our Earthly Pleasures, contains every bit of the energy and enthusiasm of their edgy debut, but with a melodic sheen and maturity that reveals more depth within their slingshot anthems. The band also returns with the notable aid of producer Gil Norton, whose name adorns dozens of classic albums, ranging from The Pixies to Catherine Wheel to Throwing Muses to Echo & The Bunnymen. Beefier and weightier than Paul Epworth’s work with the band, Norton’s production pulls Maxïmo Park a little bit away from their early, simple, new wave jerkiness. That said, Our Earthly Pleasures still pogos and rocks as much as its predecessor, only with a few more pianos.
With the first two songs alone, “Girls Who Play Guitars” and “Our Velocity,” respectively, one gets the impression that very little has changed. In fact, they each sound as if they could have been plucked straight from the group’s debut. The former’s herky-jerky bridge of “she goes out/ she gets drunk/ she gets off/ she goes home/ she gives in” has a similar feel to some of the group’s early singles, while the latter, a single, jogs along a synth addled sci-fi verse with intermittent bursts of explosive guitar chords. It’s around track three, the R.E.M. like jangle of “Books from Boxes,” where the group’s sound begins to shift. A heartbroken lament with a great main riff, the song is like a British cousin to “South Central Rain,” both in its sonic landscape and the way it tugs on the ol’ heartstrings. Likewise, “Russian Literature” is a departure in that it kicks up a whirlwind of storming piano chords underneath Paul Smith’s cynicism: “are you hopeful or just gullible?”
If there is a complaint with Our Earthly Pleasures, it’s that the middle section of the album seems a bit too mired in ballads. “Karaoke Plays” and “Your Urge,” while nice enough, don’t nearly achieve the level of excitement the preceding songs provide. Fortunately, “The Unshockable” finds the band recharged and speeding toward a careening, intense chorus. “By The Monument” has a lush pop arrangement, complete with handclaps and yes, more piano, making for one of the more unexpected joys here. Best displaying how adventurous Maxïmo Park have become without moving away from their hyperactive new wave is “A Fortnight’s Time,” which pits angular guitars against blazing organ riffs, while Smith sings innocently, “Would you like to go on a date with me?”
Like many of their peers, Maxïmo Park have taken to throwing playful pop touches in with their existing, punk-influenced pop. Yet, nowhere near this record shall anyone utter the word `Coldplay,’ nor can anyone accuse them of losing the energy that propelled their standout debut. Maxïmo Park are an incredibly gifted group, both witty and bursting with an innate desire to rock out, which always makes for great British pop.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.