Newcastle quintet goes Maxïmo Extremo for their fourth offering.
Camilla Pia 2012-06-01
Frontman Paul Smith recently described The National Health as “the greatest hits record we’ve never had” on Lauren Laverne’s 6 Music show. Cocky comeback quip or a pragmatic view of a band that, for all of their boundless energy and epic choruses, haven’t exactly hit the big time? Maybe a bit of both. What’s for sure is that if you don’t like Maxïmo Park by now you probably never will, but on the strength of this fizzing hit-filled record you’d also be a mug to write them off.
As ever their bouncy, big-hearted indie-pop doesn’t fit anywhere but in the beating chests of Maxïmo Park fans, and that remains its charm. Smith sings like a bi-polar pup that’s been at the sweets: all big sad eyes one minute and relentlessly humping your leg the next. He’s hushed for only a handful of songs – the sombre piano and string-swept opener When I Was Wild and the gentle Unfamiliar Places – and they’re all the more affecting for it, his delivery beautifully subtle and uncharacteristically subdued. Don’t mistake the singer’s vim on the rest of the record for happiness though. He veers from dark mania on the dizzying title-track and Waves of Fear’s wide-eyed panic at the modern age “apathetics we’ve become” to the yearning, adore me pleas of Reluctant Love and Write This Down’s choppy tales of “cooled” passion.
Of course he well and truly romances us first. The sultry turbulence of a dubious love match is captured potently by the skittering synths and bewildered lyrics of Hips and Lips. There's reference to the “the heat that we create” during the passionate guitar romp of The Undercurrents. Until the Earth Would Open claims that “I’ve been saving myself for you because there’s nothing else I can do." Then there's the pounding piano chords, gutsy riffs and trills of Take Me Home – a song so direct it might as well order us a taxi back to his now.
Maxïmo Park don’t hold back here. The National Health is a relentless whirr of huge melodies, frantic deliveries, all-over-the-place emotion and tales so tightly packed that it’s a wonder they’re able to pull it together at all. But they serve these songs up like the highly skilled pop pros they’ve become, and most strikingly they’re still attacking them like heady young’uns in the early throes of music-making. It’s potent stuff.