Album Review: Paul Smith and the Intimations – Contradictions

By on Wednesday, 19th August 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Paul Smith and the Intimations Contradictions album coverBesides being the never standing still, Gumby-esque frontman of Tyneside’s Maximo Park, releasing his debut solo album ‘Margins’ in 2010 alongside a book of collected Polaroids to show off his keenness for photography, and his collaboration last year with Field Music’s Peter Brewis for ‘Frozen by Sight’, Paul Smith will be releasing this week the album ‘Contraindications’. It’s taken the better part of the last 4 years to write and record music for his newest project, Paul Smith and the Intimations, and the results are pretty fantastic.

Two early reveals from the new album suggested a fun, pop nature to Smith’s newest material. ‘Break Me Down’ is a perfect slice of breezy pop the way nature intended, with equally catchy rhythm and melody and just enough “oohs” to get fans to join in when listening to the song from the comfort of their bedrooms. ‘Coney Island (4th of July)’ goes in a bouncy direction percussively, but the lyrics and melody are off-kilter not unlike to the style favoured by Smith’s buddies Field Music, Smith’s warblings not following a straight line. Even from the coast of North East England, he can conjure up a light-hearted image of a place far away that Brits have long romanticised.

Compared to 2010’s ‘Margins’, which sported more reverb and echoing than I could cope with, ‘Contradictions’ shines in its overt playfulness, its jangly guitars and lively rhythms practically daring you to keep up with them. Perhaps it’s so named to point out the massive contrast between the two efforts? For sure, this is a fantastic driving record, so much that I wish Smith had released it earlier in summer so all of us could have taken full advantage of it. You’ll think he definitely missed a trick there when ‘All the Things You’d Like to Be’ queues up, as its winsome guitars bouncing their notes will result in chair-dancing. Unless, of course, you happen to be somewhere standing up.

The album title gets an early mention in opening track ‘The Deep End’, in which Smith describes the many unknowns in a relationship, a running theme: “water flows in my mouth / I’m immersed in the deep end now / these are themes I’ll allow / all my dreams are contradictions.” Another standout, ‘Fill the Blanks’, name-checks the picturesque Jesmond Vale in the Ouseburn Valley of Newcastle, and I think the ambiguous conclusion he comes to at the end of the song is perfect, as we’re not sure what’s happened except something serious has changed: “spending summer pale / walking through the vale / heading down the back lanes / wet with rain / it’ll never be the same.” Prefab Sprout’s Wendy Smith (no relation) provides backing vocals on several album tracks including Quick’, which is a sweetly nuanced ballad to a lover, with the words, “how can I describe the way / your heart consumes me?”

‘Before the Perspiration Falls’ is the most Maximo-sounding track and lyrically, it’s the cheekiest, with the opening line “why do your hands feel so special?” Ooh, matron. LP closing track ‘Fluid Identity’ also has whiffs of Maximo Park, its instrumental freneticism a foil for Smith’s paranoia (“I dress like a square / but this is not your affair / will you just stop staring at me?”). ‘People on Sunday’ turns into a surprising foot stomper, reminding me of ‘90s band Gin Blossoms and making me wonder what memories he has about Berlin that has held his imagination so much that he had to write a song about them.

The instrumentation affords Smith’s vocals some breathing room in ‘Reintroducing the Red Kite’ recalls early, wide-eyed Byrds, which seems quite appropriate given that it sounds like the welcoming of a return of a bird native to the UK, one known for its gentle gracefulness. I’m not going to pretend I know exactly what Smith is trying to convey in the lyrics, but his deftness in using themes of nature and flight suggest the desire to be free of one’s fears. While this song is less obvious and in your face than some of the album’s more brasher pop moments, it proves Smith’s talent for being able to do both and well. ‘Contradications’ as a whole is musically engaging and lyrically witty.

8.5/10

‘Contradictions’, Paul Smith’s latest project with his new band The Intimations, is out this Friday, the 21st of August, on Smith’s own Billingham Records. Paul Smith and the Intimations will be touring the UK in September. For past coverage of renaissance man Smith on TGTF in his various musical guises, follow this link.

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2 Responses

8:12 am
18th November 2015

Nice review! 🙂 I wonder where did you get that epic picture of paul without a hat? is that recent?

8:03 pm
18th November 2015

You know what, I can’t remember where that photo is from TBH! It’s not recent though. I think we were using it back when Paul had released ‘Margins’ (which would have been 2010).

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