Weighed down by histrionics. Vocally tense. A little arty and a little indie, in the ‘lazy description for offbeat soft rock’ sense, and enigmatic to the point of pompous. Paul Smith as a member of Maximo Park was nothing if not divisive. He never could quite shake that slightly portentous air that came with reading from a book on stage (even if he did do so because “he couldn’t remember the words”) or pondering art and linguistics in his lyrics. Margins, sadly, is unlikely to either win over many new fans or entirely satisfy the devotees.
While Maximo Park always thrived on the kind of pumping choruses that allowed Smith to stamp on a light box at stage front, Margins is a drab, dour affair, devoid of most of the band’s redeeming features. At least ten of the 13 tracks trundle along in a dirge of repetitiveness that takes several listens to actually absorb, while the stand outs – whilst nearer Maximo territory – struggle to match the band’s latent energy.
The first reprieve comes in the form of ‘Dare Not Dive’, which has a slight anxiety to it, while the lyrically ridiculous ‘While You’re In The Bath’ (“washing up with cold water while you’re in the bath / resisting the temptation to look through the crack in the door / though I’ve seen it before”), offers us another moment of gentile curiosity. The track has a childlike, almost nursery rhyme-ish vibe and at least stands out as being suitably eccentric. ‘This Heat’ is similarly subtle, describing equally mundane everyday situations in Smith’s distinctively poetic way, but lacking much in the way of pace or individuality. At one stage the singer describes what seems very much like the back of his hand. Then there’s ‘Alone, I Would’ve Dropped’, which sounds like it was recorded at the back of a church during a funeral.
If the point is to escape Maximo Park and produce something a bit more ‘serious’ then that’s certainly been achieved. Overall, though, this is an album of few redeeming features, unless you like the simplest things in life described to you like a Milan Kundera translation and sung in a dull, minimally varied register against a generic, mellow chart-rock background. Sorry Paul, but your band’s intense art-rock knocks the socks of the solo stuff, whichever side of its divisive fence you fall.