'The National Health" finds Maximo Park playing to their strengths. It's the band's fourth studio album and, whilst they are hardly breaking new ground, either on their own sonic turf, or anyone else's, they appear to have expertly distilled the essence of Maximo Park and managed to filter it neatly into 13 fairly solid tracks, to make up their latest long player.
They may have named the album 'The National Health', after one of the more political tracks but this is no concept album; in fact the strongest of the songs seem to be hinged on a particularly unhinged relationship breakdown. There's a healthy strain of bitterness and rage on a rolling boil, that runs throughout. 'Write this Down' is the finest vehicle for this barely-contained anger. It kicks at a faster pace than its neighbours and is screaming louder than an attention-starved child to be cued up as the next single. As Paul Smith spits his way through the intro, the chorus elevates his rage even further. "I won't always be around / You'd better write this down / I'm gonna leave without a sound / You'd better write this down. I chose the warmest day / To rain on your parade."
These, along with other lyrical offerings here, do not seem like the words of a man struggling for subject matter on which to base his band's fourth album. There's a strain of antagonism running through The National Health and although there has never really been a drought of angst in Maximo Park's music, this time round, it lends a sense of uncomfortable voyeurism to the listener. Heart laid on the line, they go so far as to name one track 'This is What Becomes of the Broken Hearted,' the answer to the classic soul track, which asked the question in the first place. "My biggest mistake of all / I didn't return your call." The lyric bumbles from Paul Smith's voice box, serving as a neat reminder that really, he is the primary reason that people listen to Maximo Park, in the first place. It's not for their musical innovation (because there isn't any), it's to catch a ride on those melodic hooks with which he snags the unwary listener. It's emotional catharsis, served as a sing-along chorus, a simple, but deadly lyric and dressed with a tidy harmony.
The only notable deviation from the Maximo Park template comes in the form of the opening track, a brief, poetic ditty, just a minute long. "Do I really need to give an introduction / must an artist bleed over the new production..?" Led only by a piano and violin, it's something of a hollow gesture, coming as it does at the start of the album and suggesting that variety may lie within. As it is, it feels more like a good idea that fell at the first hurdle, the only avenue they could find for some awkward lyrics that refused to be caged in a pop song. The lyrics themselves seem to speak of a struggle for artistic freedom and in some senses, The National Health suffers for a lack of it.
If it's chest-beating, lighters-out moments that you seek, however, Maximo Park have come up trumps, in the same manner that they have before. No envelopes are pushed, no boundaries are broken but it seems that they are yet to have exhausted their wealth of killer hooks, deftly-timed key changes and gut-punch-simple lyrics.
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