A few months ago, in one of those diversionary articles designed to be shared around on social media, Vice published a largely affectionate list of the Greatest Landfill Indie Songs Of All Time. For anyone who remembers that heady time of 2005-07, it was a good nostalgic excuse to look back at the likes of The Rifles, Morning Runner and Cajun Dance Party with a fond smile.
The inclusion of Maxïmo Park raised more than a few hackles though – mainly because the Newcastle band always seemed to rise above the pejorative ‘landfill indie’ tag. They’re also one of the few bands to have worked consistently since their debut album was released 16 years ago, and while they may never have quite reached the heights of Apply Some Pressure, they’ve remained a superb live act who are masters at the cerebral floor-filler.
Nature Always Wins, the band’s seventh album, is their first release as a trio, following the departure of bassist Archie Tiku and keyboard player Lukas Wooller. This hasn’t affected their sound though, which is as gloriously muscular as it ever was. Maxïmo have always been a band that divide their sound between the big, clattering singalong anthems and more reflective ballads, and Nature Always Wins is one of their most successful efforts at getting that balance right.
Opening track Partly Of My Making sounds like classic Maxïmo right from the off, an enormous drum and synth sound creating an almost swaggering atmosphere, with Smith singing lines like “as you can clearly see, I’ve lost some luminosity” in that Geordie lilt. The move to a trio has not robbed the band of any energy – tracks like the instantly catchy Versions Of You and All Of Me sound like they could be lifted from that debut album. These are sparkling pop songs, full of fizz and optimism. Quite an achievement for a band halfway through their second decade.
As ever, Smith’s lyrics mix the personal with the political to decent effect. Why Must A Building Burn takes Grenfell Tower as its inspiration but also takes in the rise of nationalism (“Do you need a flag to know who you are”) and the death of the band’s friend Nick Alexander, who was killed at the Bataclan terror attacks while working on the Eagles Of Death Metal merchandise stall. Smith’s anguished delivery of lines like “I saw your picture on my telly… it was you all along” is impossibly effective, and despite the grim subject matter, the sense of catharsis in the song becomes strangely uplifting.
Away from the bleakness of current global events, Smith also addresses his recent fatherhood, tackling the self-doubt that comes with it in songs like Baby Sleep and I Don’t Know What I’m Doing. Both tracks have a frantic energy about them, and already sound like highlights of some future live show, whenever that may be. The closing Child Of The Flatlands is a departure from Maxïmo Park’s usual sound – a brooding, synth heavy number which takes the tempo down a notch and asks “the libraries are closing, where will the old folks go when they feel all alone?” It’s a melancholy way to close the record, but it’s one that somehow works.
Together with the slimmed down line-up, Nature Always Wins feels like the start of a new chapter for Maxïmo Park. They’ve always been better than a ‘landfill indie’ punchline, and they prove it in spades on their seventh album.