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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 28 April 2009
Whether its maturity of even a sign of the times, the Maccabees are in a bit of a mood. But then everyone's in a mood, which is exactly why Wall Of Arms was never going to be Colour It In mark II. The band has experienced internal strife and you only need to pay vague attention to the album's lyrical content to know that things haven't been plain sailing in other aspects of life either. In other words, they're growing up and times are hard. Times are hard for human beings everywhere, of course, but they are especially hard for an indie-rock band tentatively offering its tough second album to an industry that can't decide whether it's dying, resurrecting or being born anew. While the Maccabees aren't showing any signs of decay, their new release is reflective of a band unsure whether it should stick or twist. Growing pains have never been so painful.
Wall Of Arms can be likened to Colour It In's older, more world-weary brother. Although the adrenaline buzz and doe-eyed romanticism of the first album hasn't been totally discarded, it certainly has been tamed. No longer fresh-faced, the band are to be found ruminating on what the hell just happened, leaving Wall of Arms feeling like some kind of Colour It In aftermath. While the Maccabees aren't depressed or out of love, neither are they looking forward. They have clearly spent a lot of time thinking, walking fine lines between emotional extremes. For the listener, the corrolory is an album profuse with tension and feelings of insecurity. The album's superb opener, Love You Better is representative of the album. Built on a lover's vow, the song takes you into the heart of a faltering relationship and the complexities that lie within it - quite a leap from two-minute ditties about toothpaste-flavoured kisses.
Musically, Wall of Arms is far less consistent than Colour It In. The album's emotional vicissitudes create an uneven terrain, taking you through darker, more complex places before you are met by songs truer to the Maccabee convention. The album's slower pace moves the Maccabees much closer to Razorlight. The excellent indie-disco of One Hand Holding and the riff-heavy semi-anthem Can You Give It? could have appeared on Up All Night without a great deal of fuss. But that is only half of the story. Wall Of Arms seems to want to move into commercial territory as much as it is recoiled by it. One moment you're dancing around and enjoying its punk-pop predictability and the next you're sitting down wondering what the hell just grabbed you and prodded at your chest.
There is no better illustration of the album's Janus-like ego than the transition from its high point to perhaps its weakest juncture. It's a shame that the brooding, grinding intensity of No Kind Words should be met by the more upbeat and easily more forgettable Dinosaurs, the one track that shouldn't have made in onto this record. The chasm that the album's zenith creates between what is effectively its first and second halves is something that Wall Of Arms struggles to cope with. It isn't until you're met with William Power's intriguing bridge section and its delicate refrain: "And I'll see you when you're older / when we're older" that the album again hits another peak. Not only does Wall Of Arms waver between moods idiosyncratically, it wavers in quality quite markedly too.
When the album does lull, it is never with a sulk. The initially melancholic Young Lions explodes into a frenzy of hi-hats and elastic baselines, while the album's title track sounds oddly similar to the eccentric brass-laden path the Arctic Monkeys took with their second album, Favourite Worst Nightmare. Its confessions of non-existent faith represent the album's lyrical peak: "And through these eyes / there's no god above me / no purgatory / no pearly gates / the worms are what await me / it's only me that can forgive me." The otherworldly Bag Of Bones wouldn't sound out of place on an Elbow or Shins record and, at nearly five minutes long, feels like quite a welcome departure from the second half's jarring intensity.
If Colour It In exposed the extrovert side of the Maccabees, Wall Of Arms sheds a little light on the darker introspections of the Brighton quintet. Some will bemoan the album's moodiness, others will embrace its greater depth. In uncertain times, the Maccabees have made a brave attempt at ensuring their own future.