"Do I really need to give an introduction?" frontman Paul Smith surreptitiously sings in a kind of self-reflexive meta-lyric, before the title track 'The National Health' surges onto the scene, energetic and effervescent. The album is Maximo Park's fourth and an attempt to rediscover the success of previous albums, two of which have gone gold.
Maximo Park's songs are supposedly built on empathy. The album's concept was one of a portrait of a broken Britain: Smith sings about feeling sick and being a casualty. The song 'The National Health' is one with a social agenda, a commentary on a diseased country. Smith clarifies the album's name: "We're in a global recession and everyone is being bombarded with bouncy, happy music. The nation is out of control and the record is about taking back control, and being a force for change in your own life. It can't speak for everybody but it has its eyes and ears all around us... that's always been a Maximo Park thing: look at yourself."
Aside from being almost didactic or, at least, slightly judgemental, the album smacks of romantic themes, more than having a political slant. The quivering piano in 'This is What Becomes of the Broken Hearted' announces an inclination to writing about love and relationships rather than society, or are we supposed to assess the health of the relationship in terms of a microcosm for the wider picture? The questions posed are left unanswered.
The band's Newcastle roots surely have an impact on their sound. Clearly, Smith's regional accent comes through on the record, but in a jaunty, likeable way, as is the case with The Futureheads or The Rakes. The album is set to be a success; the only song which sounds somewhat odd and seems out of place is 'Banlieue' with its low-pitched vocals and more of a grunge quality than alternative rock, although the band still manages to produce a catchy riff.
The question is: will they ever better songs like 'Going Missing' and 'Apply Some Pressure'? 'Write This Down' is highly charged, like most of Maximo Park's music and the imperative "you better write this down", although metaphorical, still reflects the band's command over its fans. Another memorable song is 'Until The Earth Would Open', which is distinctly reminiscent of 'Postcard of a Painting' from 'A Certain Trigger'.
The album is an easy listen but you can imagine Smith giving it his all during a live performance. Generally speaking, the band seems to be in good shape.
'The National Health' by Maximo Park is out now.
Average price: £10.00