It’s been a few months since the Maccabees’ debut, Colour It In, was released, and it’s not surprising that the pre-release buzz has dwindled. It’s a cliché by now to pull the disappointed-the-easy-superlatives-of-the-British-press thing – by now we should really know what we’re in for. But I suppose it’s natural, because of the endless variety that music promises, to continue to hope that one – just one – of these new guitar pop bands will be exciting and/or new. So maybe the British listening public has a greater appetite for this stuff, but explaining how the Maccabees should come to be excitement-generating is otherwise somewhat mystifying.
Colour It In is, all in all, exactly what we might expect: twelve short, sharp songs done and dusted in 35 minutes. By way of tracing precedents, the Maccabees sound like a mash-up of popular guitar bands post-2001 – all of them. On “First Love” the delivery’s slower Futureheads, slightly less jerky but without the sophistication of Field Music. “Happy Faces” has the alternately sedate and angular quality of Bloc Party (moreA Weekend in the City than Silent Alarm) – in fact, this is probably the strongest association on the album. But when the Maccabees take a relaxed tempo and texture, as at the opening of “Tissue Shoulders”, it’s the Strokes you hear strongest, roughed up a bit around the edges and informed equally by the Libertines messy anthems. The band, at times, reaches a certain level of hurried exuberance that’s more harried than most of their contemporaries in the UK. But then again, both Be Your Own PET and the Grates have done that more genuinely, and more consistently, on albums last year.
Once in a while, through subject more than anything else, the band hits on something that makes an impression. “Latchmere” is a sharp song about conformity – telling us to “swim in your lanes” and to “return to your cubicles”. Vocalist Orlando Weeks’ voice here is entirely appropriate to the song: He sounds as if he’s got ants crawling under his skin. But these exuberant would-be anthems never quite stick – the melodies are somehow transient; you can never quite remember them.
It would be unfair to characterize the Maccabees as one-note, though. In addition to the pointed observations of “Latchmere”, the band twists upbeat pop to the prospect of new love effectively in “About Your Dress”, and “O.A.V.I.P” starts pure guitar-pop and evolves into something more dramatic (Weeks’ vibrato-laden baritone even approaching emo).
On the whole, though, only intermittent parts of Colour It In give promise of commercial success for the Maccabees. They might be of a certain genre to appeal to British audiences, but unless they can craft something a bit more distinctive, this band will probably remain relatively low profile in the US.