British trio, Maxïmo Park combine the big, rock guitars of modern rock acts with the catchy electro-pop melodicism of 80’s new wave on their solid seventh full-length album, Nature Always Wins. With the departure of long-time keyboard player Lukas Wooller, the remaining trio of players have regrouped to create a record that showcases their strengths at creating accessible, yet durable pop songs. Together with producer Ben Allen (Kaiser Chiefs, Belle and Sebastian, Deerhunter), vocalist Paul Smith, guitarist Duncan Lloyd, and drummer Tom English have tapped early influences while imagining a bold, energetic pop sound that suggests a vibrant future.
Duncan’s crunchy power chords define the territory of opener “Partly of My Making,” “Placeholder,” and “Ardour,” while ringing out on post-punk rants like “I Don’t Know What I’m Doing” and “The Acid Remark.” While “Meeting Up” feels like a nod to early Depeche Mode, the band’s singles “All of Me” and “Baby Sleep” offer up the kind of anthemic sing-along pop hooks that insure folk won’t leave their shows with the songs of a different band echoing in their ears. Smith’s vocals float high in the mix, almost inviting that we sing along on the choruses, while English brings a calculable level of personal punch to his underlying rhythms so that you’d never mistake his deep danceable grooves as the work of a computer program. In music that can easily feel like cold, android formulas, Maxïmo Park breathes an obvious humanity into their finely crafted productions.
While earlier works were more obviously political, here Smith is singing about his own morality and declining “luminosity,” while coming to terms with the limits of bringing his first child into the world during a pandemic. But if he’s complaining about a decline in energy, it’s not a factor in Maxïmo Park’s bold musical output here 2 decades into their career. Nature Always Wins finds the band overcoming obstacles to put forward the best possible expression of their musical strengths, the result is both engaging and compelling.
Key Tracks: “All of Me” / “Baby Sleep” / “Partly of My Making”
Artists With Similar Fire: Franz Ferdinand / Depeche Mode / The Smiths
-Reviewed by Brian Q Newcomb