I’m not a die-hard fan of the Maccabees, despite my online demands to the editor to allow me to review this album, but I really loved their previous album, ‘Given to the Wild’, in 2012.
For those who don’t know me, which is probably all of you, I am a song man. I love songs; lyrics and melody are king and queen in my musical world. Usually when reviewing a record I delve into these and pick away at them way too much. However, Given to the Wild is an album that struck me right between the eyes and sunk in deep. To this day I have never felt any urge to pick at this album: it is beautiful.
So when I was sent the link to listen to their new album I approached it as nonchalantly as possible in the hopes it would love at first listen. I hadn’t listened to Given to the Wild for a good year and there was no additional information about the album supplied; a good start for a clean canvas. I first listened to it in my office through a powerful but unforgiving system, then the kitchen hi-fi, my laptop and final my studio speakers, so it’s had a fair airing. I try to listen passively and see how the music grabs me without me giving it my full attention. (At this point you’re probably thinking “stop wasting my time and tell me about the album” right?)
Well, it didn’t grab me. And I really wanted it to.
There’s nothing wrong with it, the songs are not a drastic departure from their previous material, so I’m getting what I expected but I’m also not. I gave the album a more attentive listening. The middle tracks started to stand out, River Song and Slow Sun in particular but still not quite there. It’s probably like sleeping with your lover’s sibling; familiar but not quite what you were expecting.
‘Marks To Prove It’ (the first track) is driving song in every sense. The insistent beats make me want to get in a car and drive. Fast. Through windy deserted roads. Kamakura brings the mood back down in the verse but when the chorus kicks in the vocals explodes (I’m changing down a gear and over taking some weekend driver). The chimes in the middle 8 bring a bit of class to the proceedings followed by an abrupt end (following my driving metaphor, I’ve hit parked lorry).
‘Ribbon Road’ changes the rhythm for a swagger while Orlando croons like only a British indie singer can. Although Spit It Out still, seemingly, keeps up this energy it doesn’t do it for me. I don’t know why, maybe it’s a little too predictable.Silence helps break up the album dynamically, bringing the mood down with a simple repetitive melody of a steady beat with those atmospheric sound FX’s I have come to expect from The Maccabees.
‘River Song’ has two significant factors, firstly being in ¾ is always a refreshing change (which is easy to get to grips with) and a fantastic eerie middle-eastern (or possibly plastic) sounding horn in the intro and then throughout various sections of the song. Personally I still feel the arrangement and production could have gone further.
Marks To Prove It by The Maccabees
‘Slow Sun’ starts with a beautiful lone trumpet (or similar) then the verse drops in with another swaggering rhythm on the guitar sliding into (what I would call the chorus) then dropping into a spacious post chorus simply repeating “That’s real love” with a female backing vocal added. I’m pretty sure this is my favourite song of the album.
‘Something Like Happiness’ snaps me back into the room with a big horn section backing up the chorus vocals from the start. This is interjected with the delicate verses; I really wanted the higher backing vocal to be higher in the mix at this point. WW1 Portraits is my favourite title. It starts off really pretty with percussion and vocal and builds up slowly over 90 seconds but apparently this is too long and subtle for me and I find myself distracted each time!
‘Pioneering Systems’ is another filler track for me (like Spit It Out but less energy). Dawn Chorus definitely feels like the last songs, it has a lamenting quality with the arpeggiated guitar layers, reverby trumpet, swelling horns and ghostly female vocals backing up the mantra “make it better”.
My feathers were still ruffled over not falling in love and I could no longer withstand listening in this isolated context. I returned to that previous album. It is still beautiful, even through crappy speakers.
So dug a little deeper (i.e. I did a Google search) and it’s a different production team. So I’m going to blame it on that. Not to say that the production is bad, because it isn’t, but Given to the Wild is just so god damn good.
In conclusion, this album is not Given to the Wild. Which may seem a ludicrous statement but I imagine a lot of people may feel the same as me. Real Maccabees fans will love it because it is undeniably a Maccabees album and does nothing wrong. I hope for me it will be a grower (those albums linger much longer in my heart) but I suspect I may end up scrutinising it first.
Reviewer: Chris Whiting