The English quintet of Maxïmo Park have never been the most major of players in the alternative and indie-rock scenes, but this self-produced fifth album since their 2000 formation finds them in confident form. The band’s debut A Certain Trigger was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2005 and sold 300,000 copies, and since then some of their output has flown somewhat under the radar, but this twelve-track collection is well worth a listen. Seemingly freed from the shackles of being solely a guitar band, the Newcastle gang have broadened their sound; ‘Brain Cells’ and the excellent ‘Leave This Island’ are electronic ballads with no guitars whatsoever, and ‘Drinking Martinis’ is a lilting tale of love, loss and alcohol. Singer Paul Smith likes to make literary references in his lyrics, and here he has gone beyond just hinting at them with direct references to Audre Lorde on ‘Her Name Was Audre’ and Lydia Davis on ‘Lydia, The Ink Will Never Dry’. While the album proper is a decent effort in itself, the real gold is to be found in the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition. The Fall’s sprightly ‘Edinburgh Man’ is reworked as ‘Middlesbrough Man’ in honour of Smith’s home turf, and while on paper it always seems like a bad idea to cover Nick Drake or Leonard Cohen, the band pull it off nicely with ‘Northern Sky’ and ‘Lover, Lover, Lover’ respectively. There’s nothing groundbreaking or massively memorable on show here, but this is another decent effort from a band classier than most. (Warp)
FORMED in 2001 in the north-east of England, Maxïmo Park are true mainstays of the alternative and indie-rock scenes. Their fifth and latest album, Too Much Information, has just been released, and was recorded and self-produced by the band in Newcastle and Sunderland with additional production duties from The Invisible’s Dave Okumu and Field Music’s David and Peter Brewis. The album is the follow up to 2012’s critically acclaimed The National Health. I spoke to singer Paul Smith, currently touring Europe with the band.
Hi Paul, how are you? How do you feel now that the new album is released?
Yeah, really good. I’m just on the tour bus; up bright and early. We’re in Amsterdam today after being in Brussels last night. [The album release] feels really good. I think if you believe in a bunch of songs and think other people are going to like them you should put them out, and if not don’t bother. Other people put records out just because it’s part of their job or something like that, but for us it has to be something that’s worth offering to the world. We’re feeling very good about the songs and it’s nice to go out and play them after completing them before Christmas. There’s a kind of honeymoon period where you think you’ve made the best record in the world (laughs), then everyone else gets to hear it and some people probably don’t think that. You put it out into the world and go out and try to spread the word about it.
How have the songs been going down so far?
Really well, it has to be said. Every time you put something out there is an element of nervousness as we wonder if anyone will like it. We like it, that’s a given; but what’s the response going to be? I think people have really enjoyed songs like ‘Brain Cells’ and ‘Leave This Island’ which we’ve offered to the world a little bit earlier than the rest. It’s almost like getting people used to the idea of the evolution of the band and putting out songs that prick up the ears of those who haven’t heard the band before, or perhaps have preconceptions of what the band is. Again, that could potentially put some people off; those who like a certain sound about your band, but we try to transcend any issues people might have with the songs and they’ve just taken them to their hearts and responded really well. The nervousness is over now.
You mentioned the evolution of the band. In what way has this album evolved your sound?
I think we’ve probably become more confident. After the last album and having a break we were never quite sure how it’d be when we got back together, and sure enough it was quite difficult to start writing again. Once we got back in the groove we wanted to keep going and write songs in a certain way, and move on and put more things like literary references into the songs. I think beforehand they had been more subconscious, but this time around there are mentions of Lydia Davis and Audre Lorde and in the album booklet I’ve put in a few recommended readings and things that inspired the songs. That’s one way the lyrics have moved on a bit; there’s more of a storytelling thing there and each verse is kind of episodic. In saying that, we’re not throwing the baby out with the bath water, yet there are moments on the album where there are no guitars, which is something that we wouldn’t have done before. We’ve been more bold on this record, and we decided that whatever the song needs we’ll do it and not be bothered about an album being really coherent or something like that. One of the earmarks of the record is that it’s pretty eclectic. If we needed no guitars we removed them, if we needed loud guitars we turned them up, if I needed to sing soft I did it, and so on and so forth. It’s an album of extremes, but it’s nice to still have the essence of Maxïmo Park in the end.
Tell me a little about some of the bonus tracks on the album. You have ‘Middlesbrough Man’, a slightly altered cover of ‘Edinburgh Man’ by The Fall. Why did you pick that?
There are a few songs that we all really love, and a few albums that we all really love. After that, we all have quite individual tastes. With the covers on the album, we decided to just do things we like. ‘Edinburgh Man’ was a song we used to play when driving down to London or somewhere to play gigs before we got signed. It’s a bit of a sing-along for The Fall; some of their tracks are quite out there, and when we were doing this cover I started singing “I want to be in Middlesbrough” instead. Syllable-wise it all fitted in, and we did two versions before deciding to go with the Middlesbrough one as I’m from the area. Somehow all the lyrics fitted; from going walking on bridges at dawn and the cobbled streets which reminded me of going to football matches at Ayresome Park when I was a lad. There’s even a folklore festival in my hometown, and [Fall singer] Mark E. Smith sings “keep me away from the festival”, which is obviously about the Edinburgh festival, but it reminds me of being a kid.
What do you think he’d make of your cover? Did you have to ask his permission?
We did have to ask permission and we regretted it, but he’d probably hate it! (laughs)
You also have some Nick Drake on there.
Yeah, Nick Drake was one the first people who got me more seriously into music. I was listening to stuff like The Smiths and grunge when I was 12 or 13 years old; that’s what was happening at the time. Then I heard Nick Drake for the first time and it got me really into folk music and made me want to pick up the guitar. My dad had a Spanish guitar and we would get it down and strum it and it wouldn’t sound very good, but listening to Nick Drake’s beautiful finger picking would encourage me to play more. Having said that, it’s me playing the guitar on the record and it’s more strum-y. I had played at a Nick Drake night with people like Robyn Hitchcock and Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside and played ‘Northern Sky’. The version you can hear on the album is my demo they used to play the guitar at the event as I was too scared. But yeah, I’m a massive fan of Nick Drake; his music strikes a chord with where I’m from and where I grew up.
What are your plans for the rest of the year? Touring?
Yeah, we’ve got loads of touring to do. Once you’ve got the songs you’ve got this puppy dog-esque enthusiasm for wanting to play the songs and for people to hear them. You want to mix it up and play old songs next to the new ones. People have responded in a very enthusiastic way. If we can get across to Australia, that would be great. We’re off to Japan soon as well; we’re playing there on the third of April. That’s one of the perks of being in a band, being able to see a little bit of the world, as well as being a rock star! (laughs)
TOO MUCH INFORMATION BY MAXIMO PARK IS OUT NOW.