by Michael Cameron.
‘Nature Always Wins’: Inward examinations mixed with compelling up-beat pop combine to make a record that resonates well.
As we approach the anniversary of the first UK lockdown, Maximo Park are leaning into that uncertainty and sadness and recognising it, whilst offering a light at the end of the tunnel with an overall positive seventh studio album.
The Song ‘Placeholder’ encapsulates this feeling of loss and regret from lockdown. Wrapped in 80s romantic melancholy, the track has a more uplifting, self-coaching feel, rather than a self-deprecating one, opening with the lyrics:
“Identity lost, an incalculable cost
Though you’re phased, you’re unscathed
Now I know what we’ve gained
There’s no need to explain it again
The following chorus hits home well on the feeling of moving on and looking ahead with optimism:
“The last shot at the net
Before I try to forget
The sunlight on the corner
A page turning over
Unmistakably, there is a feeling that there is much to explore beneath the surface of this record, four years in the making, it’s teeming with details and feelings, memories and monologues.
Some of the tracks contain intimacy, while others are uplifting up-tempo bops, but many of them contain both, such as ‘Why Must a Building Burn’ (said to deal somewhat with the Grenfell disaster.) Again the listener is rewarded for paying close attention to the tracks, but this is not a mandatory process to enjoy the album, the songs are enjoyable at surface level.
The band, reduced down to three members from the original five, worked with Grammy winning producer Ben Allen to allow the album to reach its full potential. Ben reportedly pushed the guys to have 40 songs ready for the 12 track album, which has definitely paid off. Another stand-out track that provides multiple perspectives to the listener is ‘Baby, Sleep,’ which gives us jangly guitar hooks and driving beats, while singer Paul Smith asks existential questions like, “What does the modern world mean to me?” He’s described the song as, “a light-hearted look at the surreal nature of sleep-deprivation, and the way it distorts normality in a capitalist society.”
Featuring Pauline Murray, ‘Ardour’ is another stand out track on the album, dealing with ‘Always On’ culture, through addiction to social media, “Swiping in my sleep, pinch grab a magazine, what’s become of me? I’m scrolling in my sleep…” and alluding to the false positivity we feel the need to express online, “This ardour is arduous.” A recurring theme of the record, is the sense that the band are trying to deal with the mental and physical consequence of numerous lockdowns, living digitally, as opposed to natural reality. “No time for walking in the park, when maybe that’s just what we need, too tired for talking in the dark, of our anxieties, this ardour is arduous.”
While dealing with some rather dark and introspective themes, listening to ‘Nature Always Wins’ has filled me with a gentle encouragement, something Smith has discussed recently in a promotional interview for the release:
“There’s light at the end of the tunnel with the pandemic. The progress will be incremental compared to what was promised by politicians who want to play politics with it, who want people to feel good, so I suppose the best way to feel good is to listen to Nature Always Wins!”
Maximo Park releasing this album has been a welcome respite at the end of a dark and gruelling lockdown winter, listening for the first time felt like waking up from a dark and dismal hibernation, and realising that there is so much more than I thought possible to look forward to.