The Maccabees‘ third album is an exciting proposition; it’s been more than two years since the brilliantly dark Wall Of Arms was released and the last we heard of them was Roots Manuva‘s reworking of No Kind Words. Since then they’ve been squirrelled away with DFA’s Tim Goldsworthy. All the ingredients are in place for a monster of an album, but Given To The Wild isn’t the masterpiece we’ve been hoping for.
There’s a lot riding on this record. Their previous two outings have done well; clever, elegant nuggets of subtle indie-rock; they’ve both hit the Top 30 and earned The Maccabees a good following. But they’ve not the reached the astronomical heights many predicted back in 2007 when Colour It In was released. Their record label has stuck with them, and that nurturing was evident. Wall Of Arms sounded like a band with time and space to breathe but, with the likes of label mates Snow Patrol and Elbow leading the way, Fiction will be expecting a lot more from Given To The Wild.
The Maccabees have tackled that pressure head on, and instead of the introverted, electro-infused indie rock album many were expecting, they’ve produced a collection of epic stadium anthems that will have Chris Martin looking nervously over his shoulder. From Child, with its cluttering background and Chris Martin-esque falsetto warblings, to Forever I’ve Known which, after a painfully slow three minutes, gives way to a climactic ending, these songs were written for an imaginary Pyramid Stage audience.
It’s an odd shift in direction; using Wall Of Arms’ dramatic Arcade Fire-ish take on stadium rock as a starting point, Goldworthy’s influence could easily have resulted in a rough, lo-fi Bloc Party sound. Instead it’s polished to within an inch of its life. It works on the likes of Ayla, with its fluttering keys and rolling drums, and Go, with its juddering drum machine and trip-hop beats, as well as Feel To Follow, which sounds like an up-tempo Wild Beasts, but loses sight of who and what The Maccabees are with Went Away, which looks to U2 for huge guitar riffs. Weeks’ vocals even take on a Bono edge.
Those vocals are still the star of the show; on Slowly One he coos “little by little” in a way that feels eerily intimate for an album that sounds so big. He’s as gentle as the guitar wisps that weave their way through, but he can just as easily crank it up, and his instantly recognisable voice can still sound as desperate and pleading as on Love You Better.
Single Pelican is a highlight; a moment of light relief that harks back to the days or yore, when they were filed alongside The Futureheads and garage guitars were their weapon of choice rather than drum machines and synths. “One thing’s for sure, we’re all getting older, and before we know it we’re pushing up daisies,” reckons Weeks, rather knowingly.
Given To The Wild feels like a conscious attempt to address this. Deliberately ‘mature’, with the exception of Pelican these tracks would have stuck out a mile on their previous albums, which were injected with dizzying adrenalin rushes. What was left to do was to build on this, and continue to carve their own sound which, with the White brothers’ distinctive chiming guitars and Weeks’ inimitable voice, should have been a breeze. Instead they’ve somehow become diluted; the heart-thumping energy of their first records is not in evidence, and Given To The Wild feels like a wasted opportunity.