It’s 2004, it’s 2am and I don’t really know what I just heard, but I’m pretty sure I’m in love. Something under two minutes just blasted out of the radio and made a mockery of my idea that listening to it would help me sleep. A Northern accent, deranged with the memory of uncontrolled nights dancing and drinking; too many words for the already agitated beat; wild-eyed and frantic all the way through. I’d just heard ‘The Night I Lost My Head’ and it was like the primal part of my being had been given language for the first time.
~ What equals love? Well I don’t know, but I think it’s trust ~
Last weekend I got back late from a conference abroad and had to be out of the house a few hours later for a full day’s shift in a library in the city. Risk to Exist had arrived in my absence. I cranked up the car radio (yes, I put a CD in the car and played the CD. It may as well still be 2004), and I fell in love ten times over all over again, as yet again this band reached into my chest and pulled everything inside out.
~ Compromise is not a sin, but you’d better not make a habit of it ~
This is an album about love and language and feelings (like many a Maxïmo Park album) but here the sentiment reaches beyond awkward teenage emotions and canny expressions of frustrated romance, and a clarion cry for human compassion emerges. I knew they were political; that was plain from their stage chatter at the last few gigs I saw; and then the single ‘Risk to Exist’ came out (well actually, I heard it last summer at the Times Square gig), and at first I lamented that a song so blatantly inspired by the refugee crisis came out with no mention of charity donations … and then they announced the MOAS collaboration. And the album just gets blunter and blunter, until peak irony is reached with the line ‘I’m angry but I’m not explicit, the message was there but you blinked and you missed it’. No chance of missing the messages here!
~ What’s left for me? If everybody’s turning right… ~
Musically, the brass sections and backing vocals are a new touch, and I get the impression they’ve been revisiting a lot of Prince since his death. In this album you can hear — clearer than ever before — Paul Smith’s Stevie Wonder-belting karaoke persona, with falsettos and ‘ooh-oohs’ thrown in with clinically precise abandon. It’s full of perfect, summery pop anthems; they just happen to be anthems suitable for a summer in which we’re being subjected to another election, at which we’re expected to behave like obedient little children and give Mother May her mandate for fucking us over however which way she fancies.
~ I won’t be put in my place ~
17-year-old me was not the queen of good decisions, that’s fair to say. But boy oh boy, she got this one right. Bar a brief blip with the second album, the loves of my life have only improved record by record,(1) and Risk to Exist doesn’t change that. Heart-bursting joy is what I felt listening to this new album, and it’s so damned catchy that they joy will stay with you, even with the anger, frustration and disgust at current politics. Above all, it’s still love that drives their music, and in love that they look for solutions. For all the angst, they’re still hopeful, still calling for us to ‘show some empathy’, and I’m so grateful they’re still here, still making music that speaks for those of us who are perpetually caught between existential dread and a fierce joy in living.(2)
(1) I love a lot of tracks on Our Earthy Pleasures, and to a degree my problem may be that I’ve grown up with each of their albums fulfilling my emotional needs at the time they came out. It’s just that this one came out when I was having my messiest undergraduate phase…
(2) And someone once had the cheek to say to me ‘I never imagined them as a band to inspire such loyalty’! How very dare.