Maximo Park’s 2005 debut A Certain Trigger was a revelation. Catchier, edgier and more intelligent than anything on the British indie scene at the time, it seemed to have made a mere formality of the Newcastle natives’ coronation as the latest great British indie band. As fate would have it, they had the immense misfortune to headline the 2006 NME Tour above Sheffield’s Arctic Monkeys – probably the only band around that could outgun them in each of the catchiness, edginess and intelligence stakes- and were unceremoniously dumped from their briefly occupied pedestal. 2007’s Our Earthly Pleasures saw them belatedly achieve the commercial success they deserved with two monster singles, including the Smiths-evoking -Books From Boxes’, but it was a different sort of album: better than their first, but much more slick and nakedly accessible. For some, it was a sell-out.
Quicken The Heart, by contrast, feels very much like an attempt to turn back the clock. Ditching producer Gil Norton for Nick Launay (Nick Cave, Silverchair), Maximo Park have gone back to basics. Punchy, bombastic arrangements have given way to a lo-fi, post-punk sound similar to that of A Certain Trigger, and the relentlessly hooky choruses of the last album are either gone or buried beneath a mass of muddy guitars. Yet, for all the changes, it doesn’t really capture the spirit of the first album: the songwriting isn’t nearly as strong, and in the end it sounds more like a pale imitation than a legitimate sequel. Even lead single ‘Wraithlike’, Quicken The Heart’s energetic opener, sounds more like a sloppy reworking of the previous album’s ‘The Unstoppable’ than something totally new.
There are a few bright spots on the album, though, most of which revolve around singer Paul Smith. ‘In Another World’ is one of the best songs the band have put their name to, and ‘A Cloud Of Mystery’ finds the singer in fine form above funky bass and a bristling, jangly guitar line. At his best, Smith is one of the most interesting and inventive lyricists around, and the line ‘acting coy was a favourite ploy / it quickly loses its charm’ ranks among his most incisive, while ‘Let’s Get Clinical’ is a rare treat in that it contains so many great lines it’s impossible to pick out just one. At a stretch, though, it’s hard to think of anybody else in pop music today with the imagination to slip a line like ‘bare ankles used to mean adventure / with you, they still do’ in the chorus of a pop song – at least until Jarvis Cocker decides to become relevant again. Still, it’s not enough to paper over the cracks of a disappointing effort from one of pop’s most interesting bands.