“It’s not a peak, it’s a plateau,” sings Paul Smith on lead single Leave This Island. He is, of course, actually singing about relationships or love or emotions or something, but he could equally well be reflecting on his band’s recent career. Despite 2007’s Our Earthly Pleasures hitting the number two spot, Maxïmo Park have never quite made the move from early to late evening festival slot, and while subsequent albums have kept things ticking along nicely for the fans, they’ve done little to attract new recruits.
And so, there comes a time in every indie guitar band’s life, somewhere in a stale-smelling studio on the tenth fag break of the day, that one of the members will take an idle stroll around the room, wondering if they’ll ever outgrow the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and suddenly notice a strange contraption in the corner. An exciting piece of apparatus with rows of black and white keys, and perhaps a few knobs and dials. And the lank-haired ragamuffin will stretch out a tentative, nicotine-stained finger, press a key, and instantly awaken a thousand childhood memories suppressed from the moment he bought his first Rickenbacker.
It happened to Editors, with underwhelming results. After a shaky start, it made Radiohead critical darlings. And so, as surely as a late ’90s second division guitar band would beg Dave Eringa to smother their songs with strings, Maxïmo Park have embraced the synth, working with fellow North-Easterners Field Music to pepper the numbers with processed beats, throbbing wobbles, and organ flourishes. The introduction to Leave This Island, for instance, is basically a stretched out Enjoy The Silence, and Is It True borrows a groove from Black‘s Wonderful Life.
There’s a sense in many songs that Maxïmo Park have been paying a bit too much attention to last few BBC “Sound Of…” lists. There’s a distinct hint of Hurts in the prevailing downbeat pop vibe, and Brain Cells’ tribal rhythms owe a little to Bastille. But just when they seem ready to embrace the modern age, a conservative hand holds them back. Midnight On The Hill bleeps for a few seconds before settling on a guitar riff reminiscent of previous album’s The Undercurrents, and opener Give, Get, Take – despite the keyboard icing – is at heart a half successful stab at capturing the relentless momentum of Apply Some Pressure.
There’s even a moment when they appear to entirely forget the 21st century ever happened, nicking the first four notes from Losing My Religion and everything else (including title) from The Smiths on Lydia, The Ink Will Never Dry. But they follow it up with My Bloody Mind, certainly the most distinctive song the band have recorded, and maybe even the best. It punches in with a surf-y Arctic Monkeys riff, veers into Art Brut territory in the verses, before pulling the old “Call that a chorus? THIS is a chorus” trick halfway through the song, unveiling a hook like The Stone Roses with a vocal coach on board.
As they always do, they get by on melodic nous and charm – Smith’s northern vowels somehow add extra weight to otherwise innocuous lines like “funny how the moments come and go”, and the drum flourish that heralds the frenetic garage of Her Name Was Audre is wonderfully superfluous. But getting by is what Maxïmo Park have been doing for too long. In Too Much Information, they’ve made easily the most interesting and eclectic album of their career – they just didn’t quite include enough of those heartwarming hooks to make it their best.