Album Review: Maximo Park – Too Much Information

By on Wednesday, 29th January 2014 at 12:00 pm
 

Maximo Park Too Much Information coverIn the autumn of 2010, I reviewed Paul Smith’s solo album ‘Margins’ for This is Fake DIY. At the time, I questioned if him doing solo work was a sign Maximo Park were on shaky ground. 2012 brought us ‘The National Health’, which for some reason failed to move me like their earlier albums, including its predecessor, 2009’s ‘Quicken the Heart’. It made me wonder what they might do next. For fifth album ‘Too Much Information’, they collaborated with The Invisible’s Dave Okumu and their North East buddies David and Peter Brewis of Field Music, and these influences probably explain some of the risks they’ve taken on this effort that they might otherwise not have tried.

When first teaser ‘Brain Cells’ premiered in November 2013, I thought bemusedly to myself, “no way. Maximo has gone dance?!? Seriously? Have I died and gone to heaven?” The song is light on its feet and will readily appeal to both indie and dance kids the way the first Delphic album did. Maybe Maximo decided it was about bloody time they’d released something that felt more at home on their label Warp Records, known for championing and supporting pioneering electronic artists. That said, it’s with some disappointment that upon listening to ‘Too Much Information’, you learn that it’s not a dance album at all. Even more disappointing, while the first four tracks are stellar, along with a track later in the album, most of what follows plods along with nowhere the same excellence.

Let’s talked about the plusses first. ‘Leave This Island’, another track revealed ahead of the album release, is a beauteous number and showcases the band’s storytelling strengths through Smith’s dreamy vocals on top of wondrously understated synths. I know it’s early in the year, but I can sense this thoughtful, quasi-romantic offer to run away to something better is probably going to rank up there as one of my favourite tracks of 2014. It’s that good. The wonderful ‘Lydia, The Ink Will Never Dry’ reads like a love letter to Manchester, name-checking the legendary Palace Hotel and one of its main thoroughfares, Princess Street, such that anyone who has spent enough time in the city like yours truly will feel warmth in their hearts. The guitars even sound Smiths-era Johnny Marr-like. But the song’s purpose feels more like Smith is imploring the named Lydia that life isn’t as bad as it seems and “the ink” (tattooing) is used as a metaphor for changing something in your life permanently, though Lydia doesn’t want it to dry, therefore she doesn’t want things to become final.

Then the album goes downhill from here. ‘My Bloody Mind’, compared to the brilliance of ‘Leave This Island’ and ‘Lydia…’, sounds like their raucous nephew from the start. While there are some admirable chord changes, and Smith tries to save the song in the melodic bridge, you still want to lock him in the cellar. ‘I Recognise the Light’ references towns the band has probably toured in (Mexico City, Santiago?) and just sounds strange, not going anywhere. ‘Drinking Martinis’ makes you think they thought they better try to record a louder guitar track to make up for the less loud tracks on the album. It’s pretty unspectacular.

‘Is It True’ tries to continue on the same road as ‘Brain Cells’ with Depeche Mode-esque driving synths, but how can I take a song with the lines “now I’m lying in bed with you / listening to your favourite tune” sung in a sleepy way seriously? Maybe I’m expecting too much. ‘Her Name is Audre’, near the end, sounds classic Maximo Park (think ‘Our Velocity’) and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know this will be the song that everyone will be dancing to like a crazy person this summer at festivals. It’s great to get to the end of an album and be on such a high, but then to end with ‘Where We’re Going’, which sounds atmospheric and epic for sure, but it sounds like it should be on a Disney soundtrack, not a Maximo Park album.

‘Too Much Information’ seems to suffer from split personality disorder: while there are some really great tracks on here that will be around for the ages, there are some real head-scratching moments when you’re baffled and ask yourself, “what they were thinking?”

6/10

‘Too Much Information’, the fifth album from Geordies Maximo Park, is out Monday the 3rd of February on Daylighting Records. Catch the band on tour in the UK in March.

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[…] new single ‘Midnight on the Hill’. To be honest, it’s a lot catchier than much of ‘Too Much Information’, their latest album, and there’s a lovely wistfulness to the song too. Check out the […]

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