June 06, 2005

Maximo Park – A Certain Trigger

5 out of 5 stars

One of the things I love (or is that love to hate?) about the music industry is their continued ability to latch on to the next-big-thing and stick with it just long enough for a wave of better bands to slip under the radar. The Bloc Party album was the darling earlier this year, and quite rightly, it being one of the best albums out so far this year. Since then there's been the Kaiser Chiefs (an excellent album that i haven't played for weeks and, surprisingly, am not missing in the slightest) and the Bravery, both decent bands but in terms of enduring quality probably not contenders for the 'best album of the year' stakes no matter how much fun they are. As a result of these albums, plus the return of such chart-friendly though frankly rubbish acts such as The Stereophonics and Feeder, smaller bands such as Nine Black Alps, The Departure, the Paddingtons, Tower of London have been virtually ignored by the record buying public. For me this has both positive and negative aspects. Firstly I feel sorry for the acts who don't get the exposure, but I am simultaneously smug at being able to talk to my friends back home about bands and have them not know who I'm talking about. Every now and then a band comes along that deserve to be huge but deep in my heart I want them to remain my little secret; as a result no radio overkill, no stragglers who pretend to have known about the band since they formed and no selling out. Sadly I think I might be too late for Maximo Park.

I won't try to pretend that I was there from the start although there are certain people who can probably say that. But I was still there way before the album came out. I'm not entirely sure how much exposure Maximo Park are getting on national radio, certanly their album wasn't in the Top 40 last week, however it can't be long before they skyrocket because this album is superb. On first listen you hum along trying to second guess where all of the songs are going and almost every time you fail. The singles 'Apply Some Pressure' and 'Graffiti' are the obvious highlights on first listen but this is only because you have heard them before. Once it's been through the player once play it again straight away. After 2 listens 'Graffiti' suddenly disappears from the album; I tend to skip it, I've got a bit bored of it. It''s taken 3 weeks for it to finally sink in but here goes:

'Signal and Sign' begins with a drum beat that sounds a little bit like Fleetwood Mac's 'Tusk' accompanied by a 'Dont Fear the Reaperesque' guitar riff. But then the heavily accented vocals burst out and the song becomes something totally different. It is the perfect opener setting up the stop-start, organ filled rock that is to follow. In a 'playing-it-safe' kind of way the two big singles are up next. 'Apply Some Pressure' is simply incredible. Maximo Park have perfected a structure which splits many of their songs in 2; you get a verse, a chorus, a verse, a chorus, a second chorus, a chorus, a second chorus and then the verse again so you basically get 2 songs in 1; a very good song building into a great one that stands up to at least 9 weeks of continuous listening. The album version is marginally different to the single version but this is a bonus. Then there is Graffiti, a great song to sing along to or to hear on a night out. Extremely catchy as well. For me it doesn't stand up to as much repeated listening as a lot of the album but then I have been playing it to death for weeks. Probably the album's selling point and it just shows how good an album it is that it is far from the best song in the collection.

'Postcard of A Painting' is a very minimalist song. At 2:15 it doesn't have a great deal of time but manages to say a lot. It has some great lyrics and is just a gnerally good song bridging the gap between 'Graffiti' and current single 'Going Missing' which sounds almost like a rewritten version of Apply Some Pressure, having the same type of structre. But it isn't. Which is good. Another catchy song which starts out being one thing and then turns into something else.

Although a very good album up to this point it is with 'I Want You To Stay' and the two song which follow it that the album really heats its peak. This song is incredibly subtle and as a result it's magnificence isn't immediately apparent but the lyrics are particularly well crafted, particularly the refrain "Nothing works round here / Where cranes collect the sky". With the following song, 'Limassol', the record moves up a gear and it is perhaps for this reason that 'I Want You to Stay' appears to have been overshadowed. 'Limassol's' frantic guitar grabs you by the collar and is the musical equivalent of a ride on the Waltzers; out of control one moment and then suddenly slowing for a refrain that sounds almost like Ocean Colour Scene but cleverer. The highlight is the moment when the song builds into a cacophony of noise before the riff breaks out and tears the song apart again. Blinding.

Then comes 'The Coast is Always Changing'. At first this sounds like the most poppy song on the record, the guitar chimes sounding worryingly familiar, until the first chorus. The melodies in this song are just amazing. This song again uses the 'Maximo Park Song Structure' (see Apply Some Pressure) to create what is at the moment my favourite song on the album and one of the best tracks of the year so far. It sounds so sentimental and heartfelt without sinking into cheesiness in any way. Truly brilliant.

The next three songs change the tone once again. 'The Night I Lost My Head' is two minutes of upbeat songwriting that is for me the weak point of the album. Not that it's a bad song it just doesnt really go anywhere, the only time that this can be said in this collection of songs. 'Once, A Glimpse' pulls it back on track with it's frantic chorus and Whipping Boyesque guitar sound, without pausing for breath.

"Now I'm All Over the Shop" begins by sounding like the most unacomplished piece of songwriting on the record until about the 5th second when it all makes perfect sense with another magnificent refrain which again turns into a rip-roaring chorus. Rapidly becoming one of my favourite tracks on the album.

The penultimate song, 'Acrobat', is far and away the most untypical track in this collection. It basically involves what sounds like a synthy sound wash and drum machines over which the vocals are spoken, apart from the beautifully incongruous chorus "I am not an acrobat / I cannot perform these tricks for you". It sounds like a cross between Air and R.E.M.'s song 'Airportman'. The only complaint here is that it should be the last song on the album. Not that 'Kiss You Better' is a poor finale, which in some ways it is, but the pacing of the record has been changed so impressively by 'Acrobat' that it is difficult to get back into the flow of the uptempo guitars for little more than two minutes, even if it is the most lighthearted cut on the album. It is highly enjoyable but should probably have been slotted earlier on in the record; it ends too suddenly.

This album is a fantastic piece of work and a brilliant debut. Whereas The Bravery and the Kaiser Chiefs appear to have very little potential for progression Maximo Park look set to be around for a while. Five stars may be slightly generous but four sars would be harsh. If you like this album I would suggest R.E.M. debut album Murmur, the drumming and melody patterns are quite similar in style if not entirely comparable.

One tip for the future. Get ready for The Five O'clock Heroes. Hopefully they have an album coming out sometime this year and if the two singles that have already been released are representative of the album then it's going to be amazing. And since we reviewed their first single on RaW a month before it was released I can say that I was there at the start. Let's hope they live up to my expectations. But until then there's Maximo Park and in my opinion this is the best album so far this year.

- 12 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. [and Han]

    you blogged!

    06 Jun 2005, 01:01

  2. I did and it is epic

    06 Jun 2005, 01:05

  3. Rather.

    Whilst you were away from the blogs – there was drama. Some bastard is holding Chubbz ransom! Wouldn't have any ideas, by any chance?

    06 Jun 2005, 01:31

  4. No, sorry. One minute I was sitting there and the next thing I knew I woke up to find Chubbz gone and the sports section in disarray.

    06 Jun 2005, 01:34

  5. Blimey!

    06 Jun 2005, 01:44

  6. Franz Ferdinand were my little secret. It is annoying when they get big, but you do feel vindicated.

    06 Jun 2005, 08:18

  7. Yeah I caught on to Franz early. I think they were on Jools Holland in about September 2003 just as Darts of Pleasure was released. It was the fist I's heard of them but it was an incredible performance. Then I spent months trying to download Take Me Out and could only get a live version because apparently nobody on the internet had it. You then spend weeks telling everybody about how great it is and they just nod and smile and think you're a loon until about six months later when they come up to you and say "Hey, have you heard this great new band" and al you can do is sigh remind them that you told them that six months ago and wait for radio obliteration.

    06 Jun 2005, 10:22

  8. I got on the Kasabian bandwagon pretty early on, also Rick, The Coast is Always Changing got it's fair share of airplay on RaW a while back, though Apply Some Pressure was the first Maximo Park RaW favourite. They're started to make a splash on Radio 1 and Kerrang, but only with the usual suspects (Jo Whiley, Colin & Edith, Steve Lamacq, Zane Lowe). Of course let's not forget the band bandwagon that is the NME also.

    Also Stephen Fretwell (check them kids again) and Jack Johnson are to be looked out for, the latter having just bizzarely done a song with Black Eyed Peas.

    06 Jun 2005, 11:45

  9. I think the music press is often to blame for these fads, espcially the NME. What astounds me is the way that a publication can ignore something for so long and then suddenly decide that it is worth it after all just as people start buying the record. I bought the Travis album 'The Man Who' a week or so after it came out and it was clearly something special. Interested in what Q had to say about it in it's next issue I was quite surprised to see them only give it one star. The best part of a year later after it had sold an unfathomable number of copies and it had been played to death on the radio Q published an article in which it retracted it's originaly review. I just couldn't believe it. If somebody decides that an album is crap then that opinion should stand and and if the record buying public disagree with it then let them, they shouldn't just suddenly change their attitude because at the time they missed the next big thing.

    06 Jun 2005, 12:33

  10. An excellent review Rick. ("Write a review? Well how objective can I be?" You got 'em just right, except that The Coast is Always Changing is my least favourite on the album – perhaps why I was slow catching on to them.) I was listening to A Certain Trigger yet again on the bus on the way home earlier this evening, and I noticed that Postcard of a Painting, which you highlighted for its excellent lyrics, contained lines which reflected what I was reading about the spontaneous overflow of emotion in Romantic poetry:

    I wrote my feelings down in a rush
    I didn't even check the spelling

    Good lyrics are so important. I remember Ricky Banks answering the Blur or Oasis question with 'Pulp', and with the arrival of Maximo Park my aching longing for the return of Jarvis's acerbic wit is starting to be mediated. Part of the reason I never have the courage to play any of the songs I write is simply that it's so hard to write a good lyric.

    Not sure Stephen Fretwell's time's gonna come just yet but we can hope. But really it doesn't matter who got there first with a band, or at least that's what I'm gonna say until Luxembourg (link) break into the mainstream… incidentally their lyrics and style match the Park quite closely. They have songs for download on the website and I also have their single and demo.

    06 Jun 2005, 21:55

  11. That's quite right, it doesn't matter at all who gets there first as long as somebody does. But it is nice every now and again to be the one talking about a band and then have them become pretty well known.

    There is so much good new music around at the minute in a whole range of genres and it is such a shame that a lot of it goes unrecognised because the music press and national radio stations latch onto one good (or not so good) thing and milk it. It's very easy to find if you know where to look and this is evident in the fact that you could ask most regular members of RaW what their favourite new bands are and everybody would give you a different set of very good artists.

    The problem with the industry is that this kind of access is not so readily available to the 'average' person who wants to hear good music but doesn't want to have to search for it. It's very difficult to stumble across bands such as The Rakes by accident; you have to buy a music magazine, listen to a specialist music show or see them at a gig supporting a bigger, more popular band. Word of mouth is the best tool to a new band but this is little use if there is very litle exposure in the first place (and this just emphasises by point). And this is especially true when in my opinion the best outlets for new music, Steve Lamacq and Later… With Jools Holland (why isn't this show on all year round?), are broadcast late at night when only a small number of people, normally the people who are already aware of the up and coming bands are listening.

    And this is why student radio is so important; we are always looking for new music of any gene to get excited about. The ability to generate a buzz behind a particular record or band is so important to the music industry because the small exposure on the student radio leads to popularity in the Student's Union which then leads to requests in local clubs and hopefully more airplay on the local and national radio stations. We have the ability to do this, so let's do it.

    07 Jun 2005, 15:41

  12. A most satisfying and extensive review
    Nice one

    For me The Coast Is Always Changing is the song that encapsulates their talents the best Jimmy but you really can't fault a track on the album, I have seen many reviewers try, but no criticism has actually got me thinking yet

    The Rakes' album is going to be sensational, absolutely
    and though I fear they have the style/substance balance slightlyt offkilter the Five O Clock Heroes are also sure to do well, really good pop songs.

    At the moment though for me The Mystery Jets are getting me as excited as I was with the Park (back in the day….awww, smugness is annoyingly comfortable) – they are SPECIAL! Not necessarily that fresh but very muchy on the fringes

    09 Jun 2005, 20:49

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