A review of Maximo Park's seventh studio album Nature Always Wins, an infectious record that proves why the North East band are still relevant in 2021 as they were in the 2000s.
Upon hearing their name, you can't help but automatically place Maximo Park alongside a whole host of bands who took over the British airwaves in the mid-2000s; The Futureheads, Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand and Kaiser Chiefs. These were bands who produced radio-friendly indie rock bangers in a time when guitars - for a brief while anyway - were accepted into the British mainstream.
Songs like 'Apply Some Pressure', 'Our Velocity' and 'Books From Boxes' just bring an instant nostalgia for mid-noughties indie discos and student house parties, the irresistable indie-pop hooks fit to soundtrack many a drunken night. However, unlike many of the bands that era, the North East band haven't been lumped into the 'indie landfill' category (not yet anyway), their catchy songs just on the right side of cool and credible unlike, say, The Automatic or The Fratellis (sorry).
So here we are almost 16 years after their debut A Certain Trigger, Maximo Park have just released their seventh studio album. For a band from that era to make it this far is worthy of applause for a start. The abovementioned artists have either split or are taking extended breaks between music. Only Arctic Monkeys and Foals (even if they were a little late to the party) from that period have moved onto another popularity level, though the lack of another indie revival movement has definitely helped Maximo Park's cause.
Add to that the fact that guitar bands are increasingly being pushed further into the underground and the struggles of indie artists - thanks in large part to streaming - to maintain a career. Maximo Park, somehow, have made it through all of that to release their latest record Nature Always Wins with their reputation intact, this time swapping mainstream Radio 1 appeal for 6Music cult status.
It can be easy to define Maximo Park to the decade that spawned them, but they've actually remained very consistent over the years with a plethora of album releases in the 2010s (this is their fourth in the last nine years). Though there have been casualties along the way, the five-piece band are now a trio. Changing line ups can lose bands authenticity and the main question I had going into this release was whether Maximo Park could prove why they are still relevant in 2021 as they were in 2005.
The verdict? Yes they are. Thankfully Nature Always Wins was such an easy album to fall in love with, delivering a brand of infectious pop hooks and clever indie rock that is lacking in today's day and age. Bands of their era either experiment beyond recognition or give us a watered down version of their older material, so it's definitely welcomed when one finds a middle ground between the two.
The album kicks off on 'Partly Of My Own Making', a fantastic track with rock n' roll swagger, a delicious riff, epic strings and big chorus: "to quell the irritation/ to soothe the situation/ it's partly of my making". It's the sound of Paul Smith coming to terms with his own ageing in a way only he could: "As you can clearly see / My metabolism's not what it used to be / I've got more important things concerning me."
In fact, the start of this album flows brilliantly from track to track. The catchy, toe-tappers have so much style and depth to ensure there isn't a dull moment. 'Versions' of You' has a certain uplifting melancholy, whilst lead single 'Baby, Sleep' harps back to the band of old, a song frontman described as a "light-hearted look at the surreal nature of sleep-deprivation, and the way it distorts normality in a capitalist society." Meanwhile, 'Placeholder' is a jangly indie-pop number which, again - only four tracks in - shows the bands versatility.
My favourite track on the record is easily the fifth track 'All of Me', a delightful synthpop hook with warmth in abundance; "this song is where you belong/ this is all of me/ if I can’t include you / if art is apart / well then I disagree"). This song - which has echoes of Mystery Jets 2016 hit 'Bubblegum' - just grabbed me from the off and had me completely won over with this album despite not even being halfway through.
Both 'Meeting Up' and 'Feelings I'm Supposed to Feel' are excellently inspired by Future Islands winning formula. The pounding bass and drums are uplifted by synths and Paul Smith's melancholic lyrics: "the things that I used to think / are off-limits to me now / the imagined scenarios / of ageing Lotharios /I'm better off out of it" on 'Meeting Up'.
'Why Must a Building Burn' is the most heartfelt on the record, discussing the tragic deaths caused by the Grenfell Tower. The chorus simply asks 'why must a building burn / before a lesson is learned?', taking aim at those who allowed the tragedy to happen. The album closes with the dark, grand and epic 'Child Of The Flatlands', Paul Smith bemoaning the changing urban environment around him. A sublime finish reminding us that, similar to bands like Maximo Park who are seemingly swimming against the tide, "nature always wins". It's the longest and most sprawling on the album, leaving you appreciating the diversity on show over the record as a whole.
Nature Always Wins ends with the band showcasing their ambition on an album so full of joyful pop hooks and infectious songs. Over the record, Paul Smith comes to terms with his position as frontman in a band 20 years into their journey, as well as touching on a number of socio-political issues.
You may associate Maximo Park with more guitar-friendly times, when indie outcasts were being encouraged out of the underground, but Nature Always Wins is a seriously immediate album which deserves your attention. It'll remind you of why you loved them in the first place.