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Maxïmo Park - Risk To Exist

  • Published in Albums

We were at uni in Newcastle when Maxïmo Park broke into the mainstream with their energetic, anthemic indie tunes.  Their music was - and still is - distinguishable from other bands in the same genre largely because of Paul Smith’s distinctive tones; now, over ten years on from the release of their debut A Certain Trigger, do they still stand out?

Risk To Exist is the band’s sixth studio album, and Smith’s admitted that this album has “more socially-minded lyrics”, and is a little “groovier” than its predecessors.  Certainly, having accidentally left the music on shuffle, we couldn’t necessarily distinguish the new tracks from early Maxïmo Park, but there is definitely a progression of sorts.  

The album does have a political slant to it; album opener ‘What Did We Do To Deserve This’ appears to be an anti-Brexit ode, with lines like "this is not the good days", "Let’s all pretend to tell the truth", and "what did we do you to deserve this?" almost being spat out.  Equally, ‘Work And Then Wait’ shares some of the vitriol from the off; “The Old Boys club has been throwing its weight around/It’s been around so long and I’m sick of the sound”. “I won’t be put in my place,” Smith continues; “The hand that giveth is set to taketh away/They strip you of your dignity/They make you work and then wait”.  He goes on to comment on “right-wing views” - just in case the message was unclear.  

The Hero' is quite a funky number, with driving chords and a bit of a disco beat.  However, listen more acutely and the message is far from fun: “They say money doesn’t change a thing/but you can bet that they’re not suffering/ when you’re on the lowest rung/ you’re going to get stung.” The music seems at odds with the lyrics; such an upbeat soundtrack grates a little with the discontented wording.

The two songs most in line with previous Maxïmo Park releases are probably ‘The Reason I Am Here’ and the title track, which has been released as the lead single.  Each track showcases the anthemic chorus the band is known for and both seem to have the energy of old. 'Risk To Exist' in particular wouldn’t be amiss next to 'Apply Some Pressure' or 'Velocity', with its gun-fire-like drums and catchy refrain.  

Other tracks include 'Get High (No, I Don’t)', a catchy but somewhat wishy-washy contribution, and 'I’ll Be Around' - both definite album tracks. Paul Smith’s questioning continues in 'What Equals Love', though his attentions turn to love rather than government here.  

Ultimately, there are two main themes running across Risk To Exist: empathy and solidarity.  They crop up in almost every song, and it’s clear that Smith has a lot he wants to get off his chest with regard to both, whether that’s politically or romantically.  Musically, there’s a touch of soul injected into each track; as Smith mentioned, things are a little funkier - although everything still has that undeniable Maxïmo Park sound.

When there’s a band that reminds you of a certain period of your life, it can be hard to move on with them as they progress musically as you cling on to the nostalgia. Ten years ago we were pogoing along to 'Graffiti' in the basement of the student union with a belly full of cider and a heart full of hope.  We’ve all got older, wiser and a little more cynical - but Maxïmo Park are still belting out the tunes we used to know and love in the beginning.  Risk To Exist is a bit different, but it’s not different enough to alienate existing fans, unless you disagree with Smith’s politics - but then you probably wouldn’t be listening to this anyway.

Risk To Exist is available from amazon & iTunes.   


Chvrches, Manchester Academy

  • Published in Live

Photo Credit: Lee Hammond

Atmosphere can make or break a gig. There are shows when it's palpable; anticipation and emotion entwining in to something almost tangible. Then there are shows like tonight, shows in which a disparate crowd form a mass of uncertainty, irrespective of universally high expectations. There are those here for whom going to gigs is a regular occurrence, there are those for whom the small-by-comparison Academy is a far cry from their past experiences of commercial arena shows and then there are those for whom this is quite clearly their first taste of live music. All are here in equal numbers and through no fault of their own make for an uneasy and somewhat timid audience.

Of course, all this is viewed from the Academy's balcony, and so any atmosphere there was may have been lost on its journey upwards. Having never managed to land tickets that have allowed us the pleasure of being up here however, it made little sense to turn them down, and what we may have lost in atmospherics was certainly made up for in both sight and sound. Each gorgeous synth loop and saccharine vocal hook is delivered and executed perfectly, the only sound issues appear when Chvrches heavier elements ('Science/Visions' for example) see the bass crackle above all else, though this rarely detracts from a band who are, quite clearly, in razor sharp form.

There's very little on-stage patter from Lauren Mayberry and co, and as such the band plough from track to track with a steadfast determination and incredible precision. Only when we're informed that the “tambourine section”of the show has come to an end do you get the first taste of Mayberry's dry wit. “You're humouring me” she adds with a wry smile.

The first of two new tracks this evening is the recently revealed 'Get Away'. A welcome inclusion, the track gets a solid reception despite its relative recentness, and marks an improvement in the atmosphere, especially when followed up two songs later with 'Recover' the most well received track thus far.

A review of any Chvrches gig wouldn't be complete without a mention of the fit-inducing light show that accompanies their performances. Lasers and smoke machines make a hallucinatory experience for the digital age; this isn't a kaleidoscopic mushroom fancy however, more a sensory staccato assault with the figure of Mayberry ever silhouetted against the neon pinks and blues.

Closing out the main set with the inevitable 'The Mother We Share' sees the atmosphere once again ramp up, though it's still not befitting of the band's effort, nor execution. Last time we saw Chvrches it was impossible to escape this song, but not having it rammed down our throats almost hourly by national radio has allowed it to once again grow on us, and there's definitely a reason why it's the band's biggest single. An expected three track encore sees yet another new song in the form of 'Dead Air' sandwiched between album closer 'You Caught the Light' and fan-favourite 'By the Throat' which ends the proceedings in a suitably emphatic manner.

Minor bass quibbles aside, you couldn't ask for a more perfect set from a band who really have little more than a solitary album in their repertoire. Note perfect, genuinely funny on the occasions they talk, and with an ability to write huge sounding pop songs with blistering choruses and sugary synths that, one would have thought, would make it impossible not to dance. Unfortunately however tonight is marred by a lack of atmosphere, something absolutely out of Chvrches' hands. We can only hope that, come March and the new album, the inevitable supporting tour will see a much more engaged Manchester crowd that lives up to the exemplary sets the band perform.  

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