Maxïmo Park: The National Health – album review

Maxïmo Park: The National Health (V2)
CD / LP / DL
Out now

With a title like “The National Health”, angular indie-pop darlings Maxïmo Park appear to be mixing pop with politics to address the state of the nation. A lot has happened since they last released an album and it is against the backdrop of austerity and the resulting double-dip recession that Maxïmo Park return with their fourth album.

After a short intro track (“When I Was Wild”), they get straight to their diagnosis on the band’s first ever title track. That diagnosis, put simply, is that “England is ill”. Frontman Paul Smith opines that “England is sick and I’m a casualty
I’m in a constant state of flux in terms of what to be”. Welcome to the quarter-life crisis – I know exactly how you feel.

It’s a good tune and some interesting observations are made, however, it doesn’t really offer a cure for the English disease; just the optimistic hope that “maybe things will change tomorrow”. Maybe that’s all you need – hope.

We could do with bands being more politicised right now and it’s good to see Maxïmo Park picking up the baton passed on by the great bands that rallied against the Tories last time round. However, declaring this a political record would be wide of the mark as it doesn’t really go far enough, dealing as it does with the personal more than the political.

Not that that’s a bad thing, after all, it is analysing the politics of the heart that Maxïmo Park do so well. “Hips and Lips” is a classic Maxïmo Park floor-filling anthem, with trademark synths and killer hook. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and this song tells the tale of an in-the-doghouse man trying to decipher the coded gestures of a pissed-off-woman – “you’re a puzzle to me and you always will be”. It’s the album’s standout track by a country mile ”“ an instant pop hit easily as good as “Apply Some Pressure” or “Our Velocity”.

“The Undercurrents” is a tender account of relationship difficulties which “happen to us all” but CAN be overcome, if both sides fight for it. The melody is gorgeous, as the protagonist pleads “we both have a lot on our plate
just think of the heat that we create”. “Write This Down” is more up-tempo, while “Reluctant Love” and “Until The Earth Would Open” provide good, solid mid-album Maxïmo fare.

“Banlieue” offers something completely different, with lyrics about “the animals” screeched over the chorus and the verses spoken in hushed tones over 80s style riffs. It’s sort of a cross between pomp-rock and The Rakes, which is… interesting.

“This Is What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted” is pretty self-explanatory, depicting another relationship breakdown – “and if you wonder why I write these words
I’m trying to describe how my heart hurts”. And there you have it ”“ the modus operandi of any songwriter worth their salt in a nice half-rhyming couplet.

“Wolf Among Men” is typical Maxïmo Park and there’s more sexual politics on “Take Me Home”, which was written after watching a Tom Petty documentary. You can hear it. “Some gentlemen prefer brunettes but that’s an arbitrary turn of events” is a line that shouldn’t really work but kind of does.

“Unfamiliar Places” is a slowie in which we’re implored not to “be scared of the life you’re making, making decisions on your own”. This theme of being scared continues on “Waves Of Fear” which brings the album to an energetic end. England may be sick but ultimately it’s down to us to change our own lives. It is only if you “transform yourself”, we’re told; that you will “overthrow these waves of fear”. Well, we’re not going to get any help from the Government, that’s for sure.

“The National Health” is a decent record. Maxïmo Park are trying to mix it up a bit and reassess where they belong in the England of today. This is to their credit, but the sparse political statements they make sound a bit like a sixth form politics student singing a speech written for debating society. The album’s strongest moments come when they play to their strengths ”“ songs about girls that you can scissor-kick to in dingy indie discos. “What a world this is, but we don’t know what to do with it”, they cry. What a world this is, indeed ”“ and while Maxïmo Park won’t ever change the world ”“ they certainly make it a slightly better place.

All words Martin Leay. More by Martin can be found here.

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