Maximo Park - Nature Always Wins
Like BBC chinless radio presenters in the 50s and 60s, successful British bands and singers did not use their regional accents. Back in the day, the former spoke in prim, clipped received English accents; conversely the latter sang largely in American accents or in an exaggerated “cheeky cockney” style.
Over time that’s changed (and I don’t just mean The Wurzels…). Punk and subsequent genres brought a more English sound, as did Kate Bush and more. Meanwhile Gruff Rhys and The Proclaimers have championed their own national voices. Today, we have a greater diversity than ever - Grime artists and young bands sing in their own accents, not adopting some transatlantic style.
My favourite accent though is Geordie. I love a north east accent - it’s friendly, sing song and comforting (though I went out with a girl from Blyth in my youth and barely understood a word her uncles said to me in three years of dating* - I wasn’t always that sure what she was saying!).
And wonderfully, north east accents are now prominent in the music world - not just Jimmy Nail. Ant & Dec’s forays into music may have set them back a few years, but Futureheads, Duchess and the marvellous Maximo Park have led the way in singing in their home brogue. Nature always wins indeed.
The latter have now been going for over 20 years and Nature Wins Always is their 7th album, plus singer Paul Smith, has released another four albums in parallel. His Geordie accent is firmly to the fore (actually, he’s from Stockton-on-Tees, so I believe it’s a “Smoggie” accent? I may be wrong!).
The band have been described as wild, energetic, frenetic, angular, pop, indie, emotional, hook-laden, sizzling, joyful, incendiary, misfits, political, buoyant. And with this album, they continue in this high standard, though we need to add reflective, spacious, and more…
It’s been all change in Maximo Park. Their keyboard player emigrated to Australia for a new life in 2019, their bass player having left in 2014. Now a three piece, they are also maturing in their private lives as well as their musical styles, with parenthood now informing singer Paul Smith’s lyrics as well as the wider world. And the music is a step on from its predecessor’s funk tendencies, with a more energetic, yet spacious, 80s feel.
Smith, all sharp suits, smart shirts and a bowler hat or trilby permanently perched atop his frame, is an amazing frontman. As I have written elsewhere, they are one of those bands we will see whenever they are in London, they are stupendous live. How that hat stays on his head is a testament to hair clips and a superb milliner. His lyrics are just as good.
I Don’t Know What I’m Doing is an honest reflection on fatherhood - “My taste is still the same, it's just my habits that've changed, the nightly ritual is new, but feels as old as time”. This theme reappears again on Baby, Sleep - “My baby only sleeps when she wants to, but baby so rarely wants”…poor chap must be knackered, how he found the energy and time to make such an upbeat album is amazing! Hats off to Paul Smith (though I suspect his remained firmly on).
“Why Must A Building Burn” uses Grenfell to examine wider issues, ruminating on what it takes for people to look at those who are left behind, left in danger - it’s the jingoistic smiles that have led us to Brexit rather than deal with these issues - “Do you need a flag / To know who you are? / Did you get intentionally left behind?”.
I have to check the album credits listening to Placeholder - is this yet another guest appearance of Johnny Marr? But no, Maximo are in full on Smiths mode all by themselves. Elsewhere, All Of Me channels Ultravox keys and Meeting Up is the Pulp song they forgot to make.
Standout track for me is Ardour, a stomping duet with Pauline Murray (singer with Durham punk legends Penetration), it’s closing lyric the antithesis of the punk ethic (“It’s easier said than done”).
Closer, Child Of The Flatlands, is like a defeated child of the Manic’s A Design For Life - “The libraries are closing down now, where will the random folks go when they feel alone?”. Post-Brexit, those who had felt left behind sadly still are.
*her, not her uncles