Too Punk To Funk
Maximo Park, A Certain Trigger, Warp Records, 2005
Billingham is what could ostensibly pass for a new town and sits on the edge of the Teesside conurbation in Northeastern England, just off the A19 trunk road. It’s the kind of place Crap Towns was conceived in the light of (I should know, I wrote the entry), with its chemical works, grey concrete and vandalised bus shelters. It inspired Aldous Huxley to write Brave New World by all accounts and more recently inspired 11 songs on Maximo Park’s debut album. Growing up there, I never thought I’d see the day that a ‘Billingham Records’ existed as a reflection of this. Of course, Maximo Park are now signed to Warp, riding the crest of the new wave, having emerged from the shadows as support to fellow Northeastern post-punk revivalists The Futureheads. I have written about more routine Warp acts on here before but like Broadcast before them, Maximo Park are not your usual Warp act.
Opener ‘Signal and Sign’ kicks off with a momentum-gathering pounding drumbeat, before elaborately-structured chords kick in, with a strictly Stiff-sounding keyboard betraying one or two influences from the outset. ‘Apply Some Pressure’, the band’s best known track to date, retains the trademark angular riff and lyrically hints at voyeurism, with the kind of rousing chorus you’d expect of an attention-grabbing single — replete with obligatory regional dialect. Vocalist Paul Smith is entirely devoid of airs and graces here, probably eyeing up the fact that his hard-edged Billingham accent is more of a help than a hindrance these days. ‘Graffiti’ can only be described as an ebullient testimony to the fact that “nothing happens in my town”, cranking up the urban backwater factor for full effect, with more than a nod to the Buzzcocks. ‘Postcard of a Painting’ stands out as one of the better early Cure impersonations I’ve heard in recent years and possesses all the hallmarks of Smith and Tolhurst’s more fruitful years. Despite its allusions to a self-destructive streak, ‘Going Missing’ stands out as the pivotal track on the album and would be worthy of heavy rotation off the turntable. It may yet prove to be a track we refer to in years hence, unable to imagine having not heard it. ‘I Want You to Stay’ possesses a remarkable degree of self-assurance and benefits from the band’s ability to push the artistic envelope, once again the emphasis is on small-town desolation: “I long for the neon signs of night/Cos nothing works round here”. ‘Limassol’ is probably more evocative of Cabaret Voltaire in its opening strains, apt given the Warp connection, proving that it’s not all borrowed post-punk riffs. Though it’s nothing compared to the spiky jangle of ‘The Coast is Always Changing’ with its refrain of “I am young and I am lost”, another allusion to the sheer ennui of marginal Teesside life (as Smith attests, “I’m only happy when I move away”). Despite the tinny Wire-esque opening riff, ‘The Night I Lost My Head’ has the misfortune to sound like erstwhile York-based Britpop hopefuls Shed 7… so moving on to ‘Only A Glimpse’ we see a return to familiar themes, with “the night reveals itself to you”. ‘All Over The Shop’ sounds, funnily enough, like The Futureheads covering The Libertines, a comparison that might be seen as predictable and probably won’t win me many friends among that particular camp. But it’s true. The Cocker-esque monlogue-driven ‘Acrobat’ sees a considerable deceleration in the album’s pace, while ‘Kiss You Better’ ends the record on a Buzzcocks-friendly note.
Not since Half Man Half Biscuit’s ’24 Hour Garage People’ has there been a more succinct distillation of lachrymose provincial despair and forceful urban belonging. I cannot commend this album highly enough.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Andrew Stevens is a Chief Editor of 3:AM and lives in London now, thankfully.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, June 9th, 2005.