A Certain Trigger
(Warp, May 31)
I like to think that some years back, a group of raw, sweaty lads from Newcastle sat around their local pub on a night snowy and dead, and they came up with outlandish, frivolous plans to create meaning in their dull little lives, like going into real estate, or robbing banks, or buying a dilapidated school bus and driving it across Europe while singing American trucker songs. But then, in that moment of sheer genius that arrives just before becoming completely rat-arsed, one of them came up with a plan to conquer a scene he saw dying out even as its revival was in infancy. He stood and said, Mates, this is what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna build a band to fucking get the world off. We’ll wear tailored suits and tread in post punk but we’re not gonna drown. We’re gonna pound out immortal, visceral rock tunes and wrap them in catchy pop that tossers have spent so long ignoring, they’ve forgotten that it’s what makes punk so fucking great. We’re not gonna be sexy class, we’re gonna be classy sex. We’re gonna be the rockers that break through the thick, lame line of mods that have taken over the world. We’re gonna sing about fucked-up relationships, about being lonely and angry, but we’re not gonna whimper, we’re gonna scream and let it all out. We’re gonna be a goddamned rock band. We’re gonna be Robyn’s flippin wet dream.
Four hundred and ten. That’s the magic number. 410. According to WinAmp and iTunes, this is, collectively, how many times I’ve listened to the songs on A Certain Trigger
. So I’ll make a clarification now. This album is appearing as “Part Five,” but I never claimed these picks were being posted in any sort of ranking order. In fact, I’m a little concerned that people will think I actually like Illinois
or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
better than A Certain Trigger
. Jesus Criminey, people. Four hundred and ten! The reason it’s only appearing now is because I had to work up the nerve to criticize it. But not surprisingly, the album holds up well under scrutiny.
On “Apply Some Pressure,” the best-crafted rock tune of the past year, simple guitar riffs and pressing vocals don’t swirl through repetitive cycles but leap among the revolving platforms of Tom English’s intricate, shifting drum patterns that create a solid, yet offbeat and anxious foundation. The band meanders through various soundscapes, builds chaotically to a climax only to arrive explosively back at the opening verse. “Limassol” has a synth pop opening that quickly morphs into Maximo Park’s classic sound. There are tempo changes and minor transitions, a hectic break that falls seamlessly back into place. You never really know how a Maximo Park song is going to end, but it often will utilize this nonstructure that pulls in multiple directions yet always ends satisfactorily. On the more relaxed “Going Missing,” Paul Smith ends and begins with his steady, slightly cockney voice singing, “I sleep with my hands across my chest/and I dream of you with someone else.” It’s a typical Maximo Park lyric; these are songs about lost and missed love, about jealousy and desperation and lust; however, unlike most other tortured acts around these days, this group refuses to shroud itself in dark tones and dank resonance. Their characteristic sound is major and open, and so when Smith sings, “I’m going missing for a little while/I’ve got nothing left to lose” the resultant temper is not resigned but resilient.
Smith’s voice itself is a solid entity that he can blend smoothly into the surrounding instrumentation or else unleash to rise powerfully above all else as beautiful desperation. On the power pop anthem “The Coast is Always Changing,” he takes on the persona of a young, tormented lover who chants, “I am young and I am lost” as anguished as any seventies hooligan. But Maximo Park isn’t entirely categorized, and sometimes this punk angst transforms into a new wave repression. “Once, A Glimpse” opens with understated vocals entombed in dark guitar lines and erie, glistening keyboard, but Smith can’t contain himself for long, and during the punchy chorus he erupts with wrenching, frenetic vocals, only to return schizophrenically to the subdued verse. “I Want You to Stay” has a more skeletal sound, lacking the thick guitar chords and instead utilizing gloomy, distorted bass and light guitar arpeggio. The song is driven by a Brit pop beat and Lukas Wooller’s teasing keyboard that builds to apexes that don’t arrive until the end when the guitars and vocals fill out. The keys are equally important on “Graffiti,” in which organ and guitar chord progressions emanate with the soaring, glorious peaks of Brit rock a la The Charlatans, only to descend into a somber, lashing break to do Jarvis Cocker proud. With a lesser band all of these shifts would come off horribly incongruous, but on one album Maximo Park can rip out the two-minute guitar spree “The Night I Lost My Head” and the five-minute electro-pop “Acrobat,” and still not lose any sense of solidity.
Of all the impressive debuts released this year, Maximo Park’s A Certain Trigger
is the best evidence I’ve seen of a band that’s got it together, a band that knows exactly what it’s doing and that is going to be around for some time. They’ve taken everything we love about new wave and Brit pop and have mashed it into a neat parcel of timeless punk rock that’s poppy yet complexly structured. Each song is focused and perfected to the tautness of bubblegum pop; however, ever-changing rhythm configurations and sound arrangements makes for music that has all the impulsiveness of raunchy R&B. So I guess, basically, what we have with A Certain Trigger
is the culmination of the forty-year progression of worthwhile rock ’n’ roll. What we have with Maximo Park is an intelligent outfit that knows how to package itself for the average consumer. Why a band like this isn’t blasting out of every car stereo of every pasty white kid in the Western World is beyond me.
Four hundred and ten!