Music

Maxïmo Park: The National Health

The National Health is the sound of a band finding themselves again, finding themselves stronger and sweeter than ever, finding that, despite the dour hints around the edges, they’re still here for the pop songs -- and they are gorgeous.


Maxïmo Park

The National Health

Label: Straight to the Sun
US Release Date: 2012-08-28
UK Release Date: 2012-06-11
Digital release date: 2012-07-03
Amazon
iTunes

Quick quiz: Hands up if you remember Maxïmo Park. You know, post-punk, angular, indie, all those dreadful synonyms stacked side-by-side. Somewhere in the mid-oughts (another term that evokes a shudder), these boys and their sharp riffs and sharper suits seemed to be the next big thing. Maybe they were. It’s hard to remember at a distance. All that counts is that they had good hooks and were romantic in a ruined way, singing love-struck anthems that strode the border between pessimism and reality.

If their 2005 debut, A Certain Trigger, was undeniable, 2007 follow-up Our Earthly Pleasures was most memorable for its album cover. It wasn’t a bad record, necessarily, but that hype and buzz and jittery energy just didn’t keep too well. As for number three, Quicken the Heart, I’m still not sure that it actually existed. With album number four, The National Health, enough time seems to have passed to allow a step back, a breather, and let the boys get down to business.

Opener “When I was Wild” is oh-so-serious, and referring to himself as “the artist” does not bode well for songwriter Paul Smith’s ego. But, thank god, the hooks hit hard by track number two, “The National Health”. “England is ill and it is not alone," Smith croons in his sublimely goofy accent. “Maybe things will change tomorrow," he mutters gruffly, but if his heart’s not in it, well, that’s probably the point.

After all, Smith deals in the business of disappointed dreamers, the blokes that can name-check Fellini without realizing their world is coming apart. His is an endless series of dissatisfied lovers, a mélange of missed encounters and romantic missteps. But his desperate protagonists never stop trying; the Smithsian “Wolf Among Men” consoles with the misleading promise that “It’s not a crime to want to leave the house tonight” before wondering “What’s it like to really surrender? What’s it like to really give in?”

“I know you’re gonna leave," Smith slurs on “Take Me Home”, “So grant me my reprieve / Take me home / I want you." It’s simple, direct, sincere, near-perfect, like so many tracks on this set. Full of life, energy, and style, The National Health sounds positively fresh. And there’s nary a misstep; we could do without the '80s-posing of “Banlieue”, but there are worse sins than a hint of synth. There’s an unrepentant sweetness buried beneath the sour smell of stale beer and disaffected poses: “I won’t survive," Smith swears, “but I intend to have a good time." Is he trying to convince his listeners, or just himself?

Somehow, a return to their roots has made Maxïmo Park stronger and more vital than they’ve been in years; without the glum posturing of earlier efforts, they sound revived, enthused, even novel. There’s something inherently moving to their songs, even if it’s not the same youthful exuberance it was so many years ago. While some might lament a return to form rather than a branching out, there’s little to complain about a smart band making brilliant pop songs.

The National Health is the sound of a band finding themselves again, finding themselves stronger and sweeter than ever, finding that, despite the dour hints around the edges, they’re still here for the pop songs -- and god, aren’t they gorgeous?

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Love in the Time of Coronavirus

I Went on a Jewel Bender in Quarantine. This Is My Report.

It's 2020 and everything sucks right now, so let's all fucking chill and listen to Jewel.

Music

Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.

Music

Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."

Music

David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.

Music

On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.

Music

Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.

Music

Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.

Music

Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."

Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.