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Less guitar, more synth, same brilliance
on 8 May 2009
Third album - will they get so big in sound and produced that they end up sounding stadium impersonal and lose their idiosyncratic charm in the process? I didn't really fear this, since the second album, though definitely given a different production polish from A Certain Trigger, had avoided this hurdle already. But it did make me wonder where the sound would go and how they could push it further.
The answer lies in more keys, less straight guitar and more guitar which often sounds like keys (and even vocal - see "Overland" 's intro) and an unashamedly pop route which takes in early 80s infleunces (Joy Division - "Penultimate Clinch", Blondie - "Calm", Gary Numan - "Let's Get Clinical" and mid 80s A-Ha - "In Another World", "I Haven't Seen Her in Ages") without sounding slavishly derivative and still retaining Maximo's typically quixotic approach to the verse and chorus formula and key and tempo changes ("Cloud of Mystery" in paricular for the key changes). "Overland" is a masterpiece in confidence, taking the Maximo chaos to the limit - you think it's going nowhere but when you get to know it you realise the verse and chorus and it's arguably the one track where straight guitar and keys come out equal.
So, the songrwriting prevails, though possibly the pop strength makes the lyricism of gritty modern urban life a bit less immediate at first. It's interesting that though this is definitely a musical progression there are moments of old school structure and melody that take you back to A Certian Trigger but with a 2009 twist - "Let's Get Clinical" is reminsicent of "I Want You to Stay" while "I Haven't Seen Her in Ages", in its simnplicity (and folkishly beautiful close harmonies), is a "Kiss You Better" for 2009 and, like "Kiss You Better", is a sweet album closer.
In keeping with the unashamed pop feel, I've counted at least 4 songs with enthusiastic "wo-oh"s and oh-oh"s, which somehow sit easily alongside Maximo's ability to produce film noir soundtracks such as "Roller Disco Dreams" (for me, some kind of reprise in feel of Our Earthly Pleasures' "Parisian Skies"). With that and "Cloud of Mystery" I'm sure they've been listening to the music of Konami's horror strategy game series, Silent Hill! A minor minor negative point - "Questing Not Coasting" sounds as though it was recorded at a different time, its production just doesn't have the energy of the rest of the tracks - but it's a small minus in a sea of plusses.
So it's quintesssentially Maximo and yet not just more of the same, though I guess the move to less noticeable guitar and more synth might polarise opinion and leave some harking back to the rawer sound of old. Personally, I'm loving the confidence with which they have been able to deliver something so unashamedly pop. I'm sure I can hear in the tracks that Paul Smith really enjoys singing these songs - and that's singing with a full, lusty karaoke heart. Go and listen on their MySpace for the rest of this week - what have you got to lose? - and buy without regret! It's a rare feat that an album almost immediately catchy also has enough depth to keep you coming back. I've been listening on repeat the past 3 days without a hint of boredom yet and I keep discovering new elements. I can't wait to play it on a music system when I get the cd!
It's an incomparable experience to feel so excited that a new album from a band you appreciate has gone beyond your expecatations - and Maximo, for me, have done it again. Some published reviews have been kinder to this album than the last. I hope this comes off and this is the year Maximo win some high profile accolades. Surely it's time for that Mercury nomination to be turned into a winner.