Those of you who know Maxïmo Park’s back catalogue will know they are a band who’ve had a little bit of everything over the years: diversity and cohesion, political and emotional, good reception and bad. It would be fair to say that their latest album, Risk to Exist, might be something of an unknown.
The first thing I should say is that this review will contain spoilers. So stop reading now if mystery is something you need in your life before you listen. The reason I say that is that while Risk To Exist has many elements, subtlety is not among them; it would impossible to do any comprehensive review without giving at least some of the game away.
Okay, so the nod to mystique done. Risk To Exist is an 11-song rollercoaster of an album that is instantly recognisable as being Maxïmo Park. Also this is a political record, and it’s clear to see that in the world according to Maxïmo Park politics is in a bad way.
There is a change in mood and emotion in the lyrics as you listen through the record, but also the consistent feeling of dissatisfaction and negativity. Almost at times like moving through the five stages of grief, perhaps missing out the bargaining stage. There is a bouncy melancholy to the album’s opener, ‘What Did We Do to Deserve This’, and the closing track ‘Alchemy’ has a feeling of resignation and being thankful for what you have that rounds the whole thing off nicely. The middle is a melee of anger, confusion and disappointment, with a side order of resentment for good measure.
Of course all of those negative emotions are tempered by Maxïmo Park’s sound and musical style, so an angry song (lyrically) is at times wrapped in a bouncy 80’s synth-pop style; ‘What Did We Do to Deserve This’ is a great example.
That’s not to say the band’s sound hasn’t evolved; through the album Maxïmo Park are both of, and outside, ‘their time’ in equal measure. They capture that early ‘00s Alt-Pop sound and then slide into an 80’s synth-fest, rolling back out again to give a nod towards the rock stylings we all know from ‘Our Velocity’.
It would be overstating to say that the changes in sound are seamless and it would be easy for a casual listener to hear a ‘collection of songs’ rather than an album. But it became clear to me while listening to Risk to Exist that the subject matter brings the whole thing together in a clever way. Although I wonder if the presentation might make this record become dated more quickly, and there are times I found myself listening and wishing that the lyrics had been made a bit less obvious to give more room for interpretation and for me, the listener, to put a bit of myself into what I was hearing. I hesitate to use the word ‘preachy’ but I was thinking it at times; perhaps that will divide listeners, riling those of a different opinion.
I’ve always been a fan of politics and music working side by side, to try to affect positive change. But there is a difference between encouraging unity and positive action and railing against a mood and time that you don’t agree with. Personally I think Risk To Exist has crossed into the latter, which does dilute the message a little.
In summary, Risk to Exist is a good album. Perhaps not a great album, but there are a few tracks on it that I would listen to over and over. My personal favourites are ‘What Did We Do to Deserve This’, which I mentioned earlier, and ‘Work and Then Wait’ – a mid-album track that could definitely be another single, and quite a successful one too.
It will be interesting to see what their overt political leanings bring to the live stage as Maxïmo Park tour their sixth studio album across the UK. Birmingham get’s its first chance to find out on the 5th of May at the O2 Institute, then again at the inaugural Beyond the Tracks festival on Sat 16th September.
‘Risk to Exist’ – Maxïmo Park
For more on Maxïmo Park at the O2 Institute, including venue details and online ticket sales, visit www.academymusicgroup.com/o2institutebirmingham/events/928783/maximo-park-tickets
For more on Maxïmo Park at Beyond the Tracks, visit www.beyondthetracks.org