With Maxïmo Park’s debut album the Mercury nominated A Certain Trigger, singer and lyricist Paul Smith pinned his socio-political colours to the mast. “A new direction, a new dawn, consider this my informal complaint…don’t waste your life, just go outside,” he sang on “Signal and Sign” encouraging listeners to get up, stand up and act up.
That was back in 2005 and life moves on. Their seventh album Nature Always Wins is released on 26 February 2021 on the Prolifica Inc label and it is the first since the birth of Smith’s first child, and the departure from the band of founding member and keyboard player Lukas Wooler. Inevitably these two events have had an impact on this album. Most obviously on “Baby Sleep,” a fabulous bouncy pop song with a catchy chorus in typical staccato style, perhaps the opposite of what you would expect of a track about sleep deprivation due to a new born! Smith has stated he wanted to find anchors in the real world, and this application can of course apply to the birth of a baby as it can to decrying social injustice.
Another track inspired by the birth of his first child is “I Don’t Know What I’m Doing,” a furious exhilarating song which opens with the lyrics “I get so scared and I feel such guilt like when you first drew blood.” There is some irony here as this is a perfect track for the dance floor, full of energy and pop hooks with a frenetic chorus, yet “When I work it all out, I’ll tell you” sings Smith while he succeeds in entertaining us completely.
There have been four singles to date from Nature Always Wins. The album closer “Child Of The Flatlands,” “Baby Sleep,” “I Don’t Know What I’m Doing” and current single “All Of Me.”
“All Of Me” was the first track the band had ever co-written with a producer. Having looked for a different kind of fourth member to replace Wooler—a producer who was also a musician—the band found Ben Allen, the Atlanta-based, Grammy-winning producer of Animal Collective, Deerhunter and Gnarls Barkley. This track has an anthemic quality to it, greatly assisted by Smith’s distinct vocals. It demonstrates the perfect pairing of Allen with Maxïmo Park.
The precision of the guitar and drums at the beginning of tracks “Partly of My Making,” “Placeholder” and “I Don’t Know What I’m Doing” is breathtaking. However the slowest track doesn’t seem to work quite so well. “Feelings I’m Supposed to Feel” with its partly spoken vocals misses the mark, but it’s the only weak point in this otherwise excellent album.
“Ardour” is a departure from the band’s norm, with its rock guitar riff throughout and the added vocals of Pauline Murray from Penetration resulting in a very different sounding but still incredibly powerful song.
Perhaps the most heart-breaking track is “Why Must a Building Burn.” As Smith recalls, “We woke up in London the morning after the Grenfell fire, about to do a radio session. Being in the city at that time, it couldn’t help but burrow its way into our writing.” One of their merch guys, Nick Alexander, was killed in the Bataclan attacks and Smith remembers seeing his face appear on TV. Smith wanted to set down how powerful people often wait until something bad has happened before they decide to take action. The lyric is “Why must a building burn before the lesson is learned?”—his message is one of connection and solidarity but sadly too often this comes to pass after a terrible incident.
Nature Always Wins was of course impacted by the pandemic. With the other three members scattered it meant that each recorded their own part and sent it to Allen in Georgia. It was therefore mixed and arranged 4000 miles away. Thank goodness for technology and Maxïmo Park have used it to their full advantage in order to finish Nature Always Wins. In doing so they have created an album that sounds fresh, spirited and vibrant. The trademark energy and strong melodies are retained and it turns out Maxïmo Park still have plenty to say…long may it continue.
“They’re all pop songs, but they need to have an edge to them, too. Something gnarly in the mix, some dose of reality.”