Following up his 2010 solo debut Margins, Paul Smith of Maximo Park (with new band The Imitations) has released Contradictions and it’s clear that the first few tracks; though very Maximo Park; are a little less forceful and less in your face. Everything seems slightly more polished and smoother – less overtly neurotic and frenetic with the bombast dialled down considerably.
Opening tracks ‘The Deep End’ and ‘Break Me Down’ work well but aren’t that much different from what we’d expect from Smith, with the latter containing the classic line “Kings Cross became that bit more glamourous”, demonstrating an uncanny ability to throw in lines that shouldn’t really work in the context of a melody but do. The middle eight could be Radiohead until Smith comes in with “I was dreaming of the coatcheck girl, I was just trying to forget.”
Smith has spoken of the dichotomy of trying to create something musically different and the acceptance that the minute he starts singing on a track, it is unmistakably him. ‘Re-introducing the Red Kite’ illustrates this perfectly; the verse sees Smith trying not to be himself yet the chorus quickly becomes familiar territory. ‘All The Things You’d Like To Be’ features Wendy Smith of Prefab Sprout on backing vocals and it works wonders, considerably lifting the song and signalling the first change of direction on the album, while ‘I Should Never Know’ is alt-pop perfection and in an alternate universe is probably the soundtrack to a John Hughes movie.
Smith has said in interviews that a shoegazy, jangly dream pop sound was on the agenda when this album was being put together and this is apparent on ‘Fill In The Blanks’, ‘People On Sunday‘ and ‘Coney Island’. The latter is a quality tune and is one of the standout tracks on the album, coming across like a hybrid of Simple Minds and Depeche Mode and fits the pop-brief perfectly – a fine choice for the lead single. ‘The Mezzanine Floor’ is a winner too and Smith has said it’s about listening to someone taking a shower and thinking about the life they have created together. But as another standout track, there’s far more to it and it’s definite ‘next single’ material.
There is a wonderful sense of space on this album, even on the rockier tracks, and whereas Maximo Park are in your face and can leave you feeling claustrophobic, Smith has gone for something else entirely; admittedly taking his time to get there considering the latter half of the album is distinctively more “solo” than the first.
If you like Maximo Park, there is something here for you but if you don’t then there is more than enough for this effort to stand on its own. As the album progresses too, Smith and his band get further and further away from the elephant in the room and, by the end, arrive in an interesting place indeed. Smith has said that he will continue to write new Imitations material when they are on the road touring this album, so maybe we won’t have to wait too long but on this showing, the Imitations could well become Paul Smith’s main focus. Sounding re-charged and re-energised, with the Imitations Smith has a band who can perfectly execute his ideas. Maximo who?