Maximo Park – Nature Always Wins
Maximo Park’s debut album came out in the days of “landfill indie”, but 2005’s multi-platinum-selling, Mercury-nominated A Certain Trigger showed the band were always a cut above the rest; Apply Some Pressure was undeniable and timeless, a genre-defying pop masterpiece. The incendiary Risk to Exist (2017) was unapologetically political, released with an accompanying zine, Inspiration Information, which included essays on the ruinous impact of the Department of Work and Pensions’ austerity policies, and a contribution from political commentator Owen Jones. It is followed by this latest, their seventh album, entitled Nature Always Wins.
Lead singer and lyricist Paul Smith’s focus has shifted again in the wake of founding member and keyboardist Lukas Wooller emigrating to Australia. Smith, Duncan Lloyd (guitar, keyboards) and Tom English (drums) took the loss as an opportunity to explore new directions, and writing began last summer, with Smith and Lloyd in Newcastle, and English in Liverpool. They also sought a producer who was also a musician, and found a perfect match in Ben Allen, the Atlanta-based, Grammy award-winning producer of Animal Collective, Deerhunter and Gnarls Barkley. With band members scattered across the country and Allen across the Atlantic when lockdown hit, they found new ways to record.
The production is slick and sympathetic, showcasing a buoyant, energetic sound that has an ear cocked towards future live gigs. The band attack the guitar riffs and toplines with verve. As well as the indie-pop guitars one might expect, there is a slash of punk aesthetic on Ardour and some sprightly synths on jaunty lead single, All of Me. The record opens with the punchy, stomping Partly of My Making, which addresses getting older: “As you can clearly see, I’ve lost some luminosity,” Smith admits, his phrasing making neat work of a highbrow lyric.
The weighty subject matter continues in Why Must a Building Burn, which addresses Grenfell and terrorism. “We woke up in London the morning after the Grenfell fire,” Smith explains to the press, “about to do a radio session. Being in the city at that time, it couldn’t help but burrow its way into our writing. Then, one of our old merch guys, Nick Alexander, was killed in the Bataclan attacks. I remember very clearly seeing his face come up on TV. Those things really affected me, and I never thought I’d put them in a song. But I wanted to set down how powerful people often wait until something bad has happened before they decide to do something about it. So that’s the line: ‘Why must a building burn before the lesson is learned?’” The song is followed by I Don’t Know What I’m Doing, an honest reflection on fatherhood.
Penultimate track Feelings I’m Supposed to Feel is a highlight, skittering and enigmatic. Child of the Flatlands is the closer, an elegy to the North Smith grew up in. It’s a sparse yet rangy piece that musically describes the landscape referred to in the lyrics, and the most interesting offering of the collection.
As always with Maximo Park, the biggest draw is Smith’s voice: big, emotive and inflected with his Geordie accent, it elevates any song to an anthem. A big album full of big ideas and big tunes.
Photo: Em Cole
For further information and future events visit Maximo Park – Nature Always Wins’s website here.
Watch the video for the single All of Me here: