Looking at the UK charts today, you would wonder if British guitar-driven rock died after the short wave of revivalism in the first half of the 2000s with the likes of The Libertines, Razorlight and Kaiser Chiefs. Most of them split, some tried to fit the electronic trend to survive (Bloc Party, Editors), and a few gave up the revolution in order to cash in on their short stardom before it was too late (The Kooks, Snow Patrol). The Maccabees came together at the end of this NME-powered phenomenon, when the major labels already had their share of these greedy fellows and maybe this allows them to avoid the mistakes made by their forebearers. From the garage-punk eruptions of Colour It In to the refined and cerebral pop odyssey of Given To The Wild there has been an impressive evolution, the kind that feels thought-out and quietly planned.
Traces of more subtle songcraft were noticeable on second album Wall Of Arms, with interesting progressive tracks ‘No Kind Words’ and ‘William Powers’ but here, The Maccabees are definitely writing a new chapter. It all starts in a heavenly drone, on which Orlando Weeks appears, floating around, repeating a mantra “Given to the wild, wild away, wild away” and then a sweet guitar full of reverb transports the title track to a gentle drum groove and angelic horns, all speeding up and calling for wild escape as it reaches the end. In these seven minutes, The Maccabees show larger ambition than they have in their career to date. And this release is, if not flawless, as surprising and focused as the band have ever been.
The rythmic section (Rupert Jarvis on bass, Sam Doyle on drums) is the engine and fuel of the atmospheric rollercoaster rides (‘Feel To Follow’, the incredibly beautiful ‘Glimmer’) as well as progressive-math-rock breakaways (‘Pelican’, ‘Unknown’). As for the guitars and vocals, they are purposely drowned in sound but filled with emotion, and one can imagine them reverberating in the halls of an old church: they’re not shy but they stay distant, and show only when their presence is needed, when instruments pile up on one another like the bricks of a monument. The only black spots here are the last tracks: ‘Slowly One’ and ‘Grew Up At Midnight’, two slow-motion pop ballads ending in forced emotional outbursts, that sound a bit like later Coldplay albums.
Given To The Wild is a musical journey, placing The Maccabees at the top of England’s best rock acts list. It feels as audacious as it is accessible without losing a bit of personality on the way.