It only takes a cursory glance at the news most evenings (or an hour in downtown Taunton on a Saturday night) to know that, in 2017, it's a risk to exist. Maximo Park's sixth studio album grasps the contemporary global nettle, seeking to call out those who put lives at risk as the bastards they are. Simultaneously, it calls out for solidarity through common humanity. It was recorded in America two weeks before their 2016 election, so it bears the weighty despair of that unwholesome moral vortex. Unwittingly tapping into the zeitgeist yet further, it was released days after Theresa May opened up another wormhole in the time/truth continuum with the declaration of a UK general election.
How this album is received will depend on whether you've reached compassion fatigue yet, on the lyrics and on how hot you like your Maximo Park served. It stands to reason that many people are hacked off with the bluster of bluffing bureaucrats, and therefore that very many artists will have recorded works in 2016, released in 2017, that reflect disaffection. Music can be an escape from existentially floating around in the brown stuff, or it can be a way of dealing with it, rising above the crud. This album definitely confronts rather than escapes. Its lyrical deliberations on modern life are simple but heartfelt. The words are earnest, gently humane and calmly disapproving, without really being the album's strongest suit either. The musical decision to slow the songs down a little and introduce more of a bass/drums funky groove to their sound also means that there's less of the trademark velocity that characterised their biggest albums so far, "A Certain Trigger" and "Our Earthly Pleasures".
Stand-out tracks are scarce. "Risk To Exist" is classic Maximo Park and evokes the essence of the migrant crisis with impassioned, surging appeals from those who risk their lives for liberty - 'Put your arms around me,/ I've come too far and the ocean's deep./ Show some empathy.' "What Did We Do To You To Deserve This?" gives us a late 70s/early 80s Nile Rodgers guitar groove. Inspired by the banking crisis, it broadens out the attack on greed and mendacity with, 'You forgot to tell the truth, now it's too far away.' Paul Smith's call for unity and tolerance, "The Reason I am Here" encourages us with the lines 'Let's seize the day;/ don't generate antipathy obsessing over history.'
In thirty years' time, when the documentary makers look back on how profoundly rubbish this decade was, they'll have a vast array of songs available to accompany their montages. With the possible exception of the title track, they might bypass this album.