Fans of Maxïmo Park will not be disappointed with frontman Smith’s solo debut.
Chris White 2010
Newcastle’s Maxïmo Park were among the more thoughtful bands to emerge during the UK post-punk/new wave revival of the mid-00s, due in no small part to the acutely observed lyrics of front man Paul Smith.
A year on from his group’s rather disappointing third album Quicken the Heart, Smith is back with a collection of self-penned songs recorded with a collection of north-east friends including Field Music’s David Brewis on bass. This is apparently just a side project rather than the beginning of a solo career – Maxïmo Park are currently working on new material – and Margins doesn’t represent much of a departure away from their established template.
Tracks like North Atlantic Drift and Dare Not Dive appear to be Smith on auto-pilot and would slip seamlessly onto Quicken the Heart with their angular rhythms, spiky guitars and half-sung, half-shouted choruses. Our Lady of Lourdes is better – layered and more atmospheric – but there’s a general lack of killer tunes here and the likes of Wild Beasts have moved this particular brand of intelligent art rock on to a whole new, more interesting plane.
To be fair, delve a little deeper and there is some genuine branching out to be found. While You’re In The Bath is just a songwriter plucking his lone guitar and pouring out his heart, while Pinball closes the set impressively with its combination of haunting cello, maudlin, sonorous vocal and lilting country-folk chords bringing to mind a Geordie Micah P. Hinson.
Lyrically, Smith’s his usual intriguing if rather over-earnest self. In Improvement/Denouement he is "hooked to a reservoir of lust"; Pinball sees him alternately "categorising", "simplifying", "stultifying" and "agonising"; on Alone I Would Have Dropped he proclaims "the position of passion is irrelevant" before "unearthing a dinosaur’s spine". Whether even he really knows what on earth he’s talking about is a moot point, but straightforward girl meets boy stuff it certainly isn’t.
Nevertheless, as an overall package, Margins struggles to rise above the ordinary. Fans of Maxïmo Park will not be disappointed, but it’s frankly hard to see anyone else caring very much.