Manage episode 295933993 series 2926342
Music critics have tried to classify the music made by North East England’s Maximo Park for the past two decades, eventually converging on the term ‘art pop’. Yet Paul Smith, the band’s singer and main co-songwriter (with guitarist Duncan Lloyd) describes their music thus as:
“Odd but still pop music. Weird but anthemic. Music with a literary influence but also immediate - in some ways primitive - music that tries to slap you in the face a little bit, but twangs its way back to being pop. We try to make it accessible, if only to ourselves”.
Only Smith could describe Maximo Park’s music in that way and it’s perfect. No wonder perhaps, since he has practiced since the band’s early days when Smith wrote his own marketing copy for early gigs (‘unruly pop’ was one elevator pitch from Maximo’s early days). With his art school background and literary leanings Paul Smith can express himself through music more than most - the thinking person’s pop lyricist if you will.
While I worry that Maximo Park may be limiting their audience to the world’s intellectually curious (and possibly Northern sympathisers), the band’s most recent album ‘Nature Always Wins’ was a number two charting record. While some of the band’s previous albums have been statements of feeling - often political or raging against the machine in some way - their most recent outing seems more expansive and personal at the same time, while musically melding all their influences and styles into something of the perfect embodiment of Smith’s own definition. While Smith has worn his emotions on his sleeve lyrically before, Nature Always Wins has seen him hone the craft but be more pragmatic too. There might not have been a better song about the parental relationship than ‘Versions Of You’, nor indeed ‘Baby, Sleep’. To say they are both great examples of parent pop would just add more Maximo music theory into the mix!
After two decades on the British pop scene, Maximo Park is very much evolving. The band has been brave enough to step outside their trademark melodic hooks and catchy choruses to make a song like ‘Child Of The Flatlands’ (let alone make it the album’s lead single, something that brought to my mind The Police and their 1981 gloomy lead single ‘Invisible Sun’). The song is a step away from the emotional yearning or intellectual playfulness of previous singles to something more personal, reflective and deeper. The song was inspired by a walk Paul Smith took on the North East’s industrial path. That bleak, abandoned beauty of the industrial wastes close to their homeland has inspired one of their best ever songs.
When it comes to longevity, the band has stuck to the art and put its trust in partners (Prolifica and PIAS these days) to get their records to public, yet the desire to be accessible has always been there. From Paul Smith’s point of view, gratitude to the early days of decent record company advances and tour support (WARP records in those days) allowed the band to simply focus on the music, song-by-song, album-by-album and tour-by-tour. A Northern work ethic combined with the art school sensibilities hasn’t done them any harm over the years. However the modern way is a necessity too: hence in 2021 a YouTube Premier of Nature Always Wins, presence on socials, playlist meetings and radio edits.
After all, in Paul’s own words “We were lucky to be in the spotlight and over the years, the light may brighten or dim, but we’ve still managed to stay in it. We’re not daft”.
Humble to the last and doing just fine. It won’t be long before National Treasure status is suitably assigned.
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