Despite a good start, this post-punky UK guitar-pop quintet's sophomore album doesn't quite match up to its debut.
Newcastle Upon Tyne quintet Maxïmo Park was among the many bright spikes of light that came bursting out in 2005. Along with Kaiser Chiefs and the Bravery, the band captured the essence of the early 1980s new wavy, post-punk vibe and funneled it into anxious and addictive new millennium guitar pop. Its debut, A Certain Trigger, was less widely consumed than the first albums of its peers, but the record has held up better and proved less disposable (here's Adrien Begrand's PopMatters review). Opening for the Bravery, Maxïmo Park was the more convincing of the two acts, totally committed to its performance and material, tearing up the stage in front of a crowd still filtering in, and working without the window dressings of the pro light show afforded to the evening's headliners.
The year 2007, however, is the time of the sophomore album, and we all know which damning word so often follows sophomore. While I'm hesitant to say that Maxïmo Park's second album, Our Earthly Pleasures, finds the band in a slump, the bulk of the material simply isn't as sparkling and captivating as that on A Certain Trigger. This is surprising, coming from a band whose surfeit of good songs resulted in 2006's tasty B-sides collection, Missing Songs (my PopMatters review).
Our Earthly Pleasures certainly gets off to a good start. "Girls Who Play Guitars" is power pop on speed, with punchy and crunchy guitar riffs, and a catchy chorus complete with call-and-response backing vocals. As occurs on quite a few second albums, Paul Smith's lyrics are preoccupied with the results of rising fame, as he watches a friend who never thinks "to pause for one minute", and whose life on the "path to excess just led to boredom". Meanwhile, he longs for the days when they "used to talk about girls who play guitars", and "make plans in tiny bars". The next track, lead single "Our Velocity", is a scorcher that rides on a pulsating synth arpeggio.
The album simmers after that (and gets bibliophilic) with "Books from Boxes", a low-key song about a missed opportunity, and "Russian Literature", which builds to a nice climax in the chorus ("I already knew her name!"), but takes a while to get to the pay-off. And this pretty well describes a lot of Our Earthly Pleasures. These are songs with nice moments, but, after the second track, it's a rare number that's compelling from start to finish. "The Monument" has a pretty piano sound and handclaps, but no catchy melody. "Sandblasted and Set Free" offers up its title as an anthem, with new romantic line, but the rest of the song meanders. Maybe Smith gets a little too caught up in romantic notions, though. A title like "Parisian Skies" is just cheesy and sentimental. It seems tagged on, anyway; as if the words were placed into the lyrics only to facilitate the title.
It's my job, oftentimes, to pick at the little things that don't serve an album well. Despite its flaws, Our Earthly Pleasures is a good record of mostly up-tempo UK indie rock. It's quite serviceable as the soundtrack for running errands, working out, or simply staying awake during that midweek afternoon energy ebb where you might've otherwise lost the will to survive the next 40 minutes of work-related drudgery. Really, though, the few new fans that Maxïmo Park will convert with this disc are the same folks who've been won over by the band's superior debut, A Certain Trigger.