Release Date: May 12, 2009
Record label: Warp
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
It turns out the toughest part of being a band in the post-punk revival isn’t figuring out if you’d like to be the next Joy Division or the next New Order; it’s making an album that even approaches the quality of your debut. Almost without fail, the purveyors of the new wave of British post-punk -- the Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, the Futureheads, and Maximo Park -- all caught mad hype after one record of taut guitars and syncopated, Morse code drums, but all of them tanked when it came time to record album number two (and three). That hoary cliché of bands having their whole lives to write their debuts and only a few months to write their sophomore album doesn’t really apply here (and is mostly bunk anyway) because time isn’t the problem, ambition is.
Maximo Park worked with producer Nick Launay on Quicken the Heart, and he steers the band away from Our Earthly Pleasures' slickness and toward a slightly rawer, guitar-based sound that recalls A Certain Trigger. Yet Quicken the Heart isn't as accessible as their debut -- not because the band is taking experimental risks, but because too often, the hooks and melodies don't jump out as they have before. "Wraithlike" is an exception, crashing in on sirens and emphatic drums, but other songs that aim for high drama fall short.
When Maxïmo Park emerged in 2005, among the likes of the Futureheads and Hot Club de Paris, it seemed likely that they had no greater chance of building a career than dozens of bands playing similar post-punk music. But instead of fading into obscurity or being dropped by their label, Maxïmo Park are releasing their third album, and are able to fill big halls. Perhaps to ensure the fans don't desert them, Quicken the Heart sticks rigidly to their formula of nervy rhythms and angular guitars.
For a public gorged on the Rock and Roll myth, it's eminently desirable for an artist to impale themselves on one of those viciously barbed stakes that break them suddenly and without mercy: with luck it's a plane wreck; drug psychosis; an insurmountable ego clash; hell, even the crippling ennui which stems from the vacuity of commercial success - the kind which manifests itself in a hiatus of interminable length - it's all preferable to the slow death-rattle of a dying muse. The relative disappointment of Our Earthly Pleasures raised a question of Maximo Park: with so many bands seen to be dying on the vine both creatively and commercially in the grip of a savage new climate, could they revitalise themselves sufficiently to escape the cull? The answer would appear to be inconclusive, for the time being at least - as Quicken The Heart represents Maximo Park settling into a rut, albeit an intermittently attractive one. From the opening chords of 'Wraithlike' and throughout the next forty-five minutes or so there's little attempt at a new land-grab, merely a consolidation verging on entrenchment.
Over the last twelve months, it seems that a trend has arisen where after the “difficult second album” you have the “even more difficult third album. ” New wave Geordies, Maximo Park, burst onto the scene in the middle of the decade with A Certain Trigger, three months after Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm and a year after Franz Ferdinand’s eponymous début. All three were Mercury nominated (and in the case of Franz Ferdinand, actually won the poisoned chalice of an award) and, if you were to believe the press at the time, heralded a new age in British rock.
Despite the rating above, Maxïmo Park haven't quite followed the same tragic three-album arc as fellow UK post-punk revivalists like Bloc Party or Futureheads. Sure, their creative zest has also buckled under the pressure of success and pristine production, but of all the "angular" sediment the Franz Ferdinand tidal wave brought with it, the always underrated Maxïmo Park felt most like a diamond in the rough. Debut A Certain Trigger still staves off easy pigeonholing, its influences obvious but execution nuanced.
No one wants to see dreary words like “backpedaling”, “conciliatory”, or (worse yet) “stagnant” in a music review, but I’m willing to put down a few bucks that we’ll be seeing some permutation of them in anything written about Quicken the Heart over the next couple of weeks. (In my case, I got all three out of the way in the first sentence. ) Yes, we’re dealing with another band that’s getting a bit too cozy as the dust drifting through this decade’s once heralded post-punk revival begins to settle; yes, Maxïmo Park have released the album (number three, as these things go) that’s going to tell us all whether we should or shouldn’t continue paying attention to this band; and yes, if you’re more into words like “adventurous”, “enthralling”, and are as fatigued as I am by trebly guitar rock that dares you to see how long you can write a review without using the word “angular”, you should probably steer clear of this one.
These Brits seem subject to the law of diminishing returns. Their debut, A Certain Trigger (2005), turned our heads, and then Our Earthly Pleasures (2007) felt slightly redundant but not enough to put us off. [rssbreak] Quicken The Heart, however, goes nowhere new and hardly bests its predecessor. Singer Paul Smith is mostly to blame; he seems incapable of stretching his range or vocal delivery.