[CD Review] Maximo Park, 'Quicken the Heart' (Warp)

The guys in those XTC-mining Brit bands who were big in the middle of this decade—they’re all dorks, right? When your guitars and high-hats twitch with the leg-shaking nervousness of sexually frustrated rocker teens, you have a few image-saving options: You can play it slickly restrained (à la Bloc Party), or play it cheeky by singing about robots (the Futureheads). Lacking the self-awareness to do either, Maxïmo Park played like the loutish, big-hearted, book-reading Talking Heads fans they seem to be. The resulting debut, 2005’s A Certain Trigger, was an album of full-throated, rackety, embarrassing keyboard rock that avoided pop structures out of instinct and eschewed self-deprecation out of obliviousness. It was wonderful. 

Two albums later, Maxïmo Park’s sloppiness is now slightly less lovable. Singer Paul Smith’s autopilot mode always seems to produce a stream of confessions that dance around the cliché. But now, that autopilot comes with the added feature of amateur AABB rhyme patterns in a north U.K. yodel. His band suffer similarly; while they’ve still got a penchant for wonky structures, tracks such as “Questing, Not Coasting” are as predictably anthemic as, say, a Keane song. 

It’s as if the band wanted to ratchet up the drama for Quicken the Heart but used all the wrong methods. The album title. The silly keyboard siren that runs throughout opener “Wraithlike.” Artifice has replaced effortless vigor. Exceptions exist, of course. Skip to “Let’s Get Clinical” to hear Smith try to talk dirty over guitars that burble in a vaguely “Billie Jean” rhythm. The word “circumnavigation” gets used in a come-on. It’s awkward, and for Maxïmo Park, that means awesome.

 
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