Maximo newbies should try falling in love with A Certain Trigger first, but definitely save some room in your collection for Missing Songs.
Newcastle's Maximo Park are not ones to skimp on their recorded output. With only one proper album to their name, they have issued enough material to occupy an entire shelf of the most avid fan's collection. Along with the single disc version of their terrific debut, A Certain Trigger, Warp Records also put out a limited edition two-fer that offered seven additional tracks recorded live in Tokyo. If you've heard A Certain Trigger (and I sincerely hope you have), then you know that nearly every track is catchy enough to go straight to the Top of the Pops. Their label is working diligently toward that elusive goal, having just released their fourth UK single, most of which appear in multiple formats. The stack keeps growing.
For those of us here in the U.S., the band have now added one more sweet plum to the already overflowing cornucopia. Missing Songs compiles 12 B-sides, including demo versions of three songs from A Certain Trigger. A few of these tracks had previously only seen life on vinyl, with this collection marking their most welcome digital debut.
B-sides are an intriguing facet of the recording industry. The best of them can add a whole new dimension to a fan's appreciation for an already great band. U2's extra tracks from The Joshua Tree, for instance, could have made for a separate album good enough to eclipse anything they've recorded since Achtung Baby. Other times, an artist will offer us nothing but single edits, mediocre isolated live tracks, or instrumental versions of the A-side.
Fortunately, Maximo Park have more to offer. While not exactly a revelation, the nine non-demo tracks on Missing Songs broaden our view of the band, showing them to be capable of more than the hyper-hooky pop of A Certain Trigger. That album already hinted at their creative breadth with the Weill-esque "Now I'm All over the Shop" and the smolderingly lovely "Acrobat", both of which were tucked away near the record's end. This new collection ventures further out, serving up an unrecognizable cover of John Lennon's "Isolation", from 1970's Plastic Ono Band. Played at perhaps quadruple the original's tempo, Maximo Park transform it into something more closely resembling Joy Division's song of the same name, only sunnier and with squiggling blurps of rhythm guitar instead of swelling synths.
The remaining tracks are all originals, revealing influences like Meat Is Murder-era Smiths on the jangly rockabilly of "A Year of Doubt" and XTC on "Trial and Error", with its melodies that twist oddly but never fail to please. On "Stray Talk", we discover just how well formed the band's musical identity is, when nothing more than Paul Smith's voice and some strummed acoustic guitar chords still thoroughly communicate the Maximo Park sound. Elsewhere, on "My Life in Reverse", we find that their usual sonic palette is far from dried up. A little more garagey and brooding than the typical album track, it wouldn't have sat well on a A Certain Trigger, but it remains a quite worthwhile example of their agitated pop. "Fear of Falling" is even rawer. It's got energy to spare and a surprising Beach Boys "ooh-woo", but is otherwise a bit unremarkable.
To varying degrees, this is the case for the rest of the material on Missing Songs. It's all quality stuff, including the demos, but it's likely to be of limited appeal to anyone but the group's already established fan base. As a self-ascribed member of said clique, the dozen spins I've given this CD in the past week have been a blast, enhancing my appreciation for a band I already really like. Maximo newbies should try falling in love with A Certain Trigger first, but definitely save some room in your collection for Missing Songs. You're going to want it all.