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Maximo Park Biography
Just two vinyl-only singles in, and things are pulling very sharply into focus for Maximo Park. A year ago, their inchoate howls of frustration set to big choruses were still largely un-moulded and all-but unknown outside (even inside) their native Newcastle. But what a difference a debut makes.
Now, copies of their first, red vinyl seven-inch pairing of Graffiti and Going Missing are ferociously fought over at an online marketplace near you, changing hands for upwards of 50 quid. Thankfully one of these rare artefacts found its way into the hands of Steve Beckett, Warp Records supremo. And the band who were to redefine the roster of the world's leading electronic label were decidedly on their way.
Beckett saw in Maximo Park and their arresting frontman Paul Smith, something of the promise he had earlier identified in Pulp and Jarvis Cocker just as they were making their transition from bookish miserable-ism to sharply-honed, hilarious social commentary, set in a pop idiom. Both bands talk easily about the landscape of boring, sh-tty Britain, speaking with originality, accuracy, resigned wit, and more than a little fire in their bellies. Like Cocker, Paul seems often thwarted in his songs, waiting both literally and metaphorically as the Position Closed sign goes up.
That song ['Signal & Sign'] is supposed to be about seizing new direction and a new dawn, a very simplistic call to arms: 'Don't waste your life, Just go outside!', says Smith. But the chorus is just a confused person, and there are loads of different moods and other smaller stories within the song. I like balancing simple and complex elements and watching them battle it out with each other.
Words mean everything to Smith and he confesses to delighting in trying to smuggle strange concepts and non-pop phrasing into his work. Every single line on the record I've thought about individually to see if it stands up in isolation, he says. Often you only get one line on a record that really gets you, and I'm trying to go one better than that. Pop's a transient form of culture and I'm trying to add something of resonance to it.
Smith is undoubtedly a charismatic and serious young man, but he goes through some kind of metamorphosis when he approaches a stage. There is a transformational aspect to performing, he says. I react to the music and filter it through my body. It's different every night, a different place with a different atmosphere and different people. From my point of view, it's a very basic thing that happens onstage. People say 'That Paul Smith, he thinks he's a bigger star than he is,' but when I'm jumping around like an idiot I've got no time to think about being cool, or anything other than giving 100% commitment. I am a servant of the music and I've got no self-confidence outside of that. It comes out of you and if you can't express it you shouldn't be on stage; it is after all built on a higher level so people can see you.
On stage and in the studio, Smith deals in tight wordplay, his tumult of syllables bombarding the listener and reflecting the singer's state of personal confusion over another fine mess he's gotten himself into. Somehow out of this maelstrom Maximo Park reliably manages to conjure a stone cold killer chorus, as in the epically pummelling Once A Glimpse, the deliciously baffling The Coast Is Always Changing, or the self-explanatory Now I'm All Over The Shop.
Throughout their short songs Smith chaffs gently at the boundaries of the pop lexicon, breathing real life into stifling lyrical situations, making them true, in his own language and own accent. So that, without ever seeming to try to be different, he manages to construct a believable environment of small town, narrowed horizons, from which a young man has no choice but to cut and run.
People have a preconceived notion of what constitutes real music and soul music, but Soul Music is just another package. Real soul music is Joy Division and Cocteau Twins, as well as Aretha Franklin, says Smith. A Certain Trigger is an emotional record. I'm not sure that any new emotions have been invented in the last 20 million years. Things remain pretty basic and it's those things that I'm trying to interpret; trying to be universal and individual at the same time.
In this quest he is bolstered and driven ever forward by the inventive song structures of Duncan Lloyd (guitars), Lukas Wooller (keys), Archis Tiku (bass), and Tom English (drums). Musically there is something almost claustrophobically tight about Maximo Park that means you have to check yourself to make sure you remember to breathe.
Out of this ferment the band is writing some of the best and most memorable pop songs of their generation. Both sides of that classic debut, Graffiti and Going Missing sound like bona fide big, big hits of the near future. Graffiti, with its barnstorming rattle through a tale of hitting a personal wall, is bug-eyed intensity incarnate; its burning and complex guitars providing the perfect escape route from a town where nothing happens and where both hope and vision have long since been lost.
It's about the continual search for romance around every corner in everyday life, says Smith. 'I'll do graffiti if you sing to me in French' was a line left over from before I joined the band. And it reminded me of the allure of the Paris riots of 1968 and the New Wave and Situationism; a time when it seemed possible for anything to happen, but remembered in a relationship when nothing seems possible and you are looking for a moment of transcendence. 'What are we doing here if romance isn't dead?!'
Anthemic and immense, Going Missing is if anything stronger still, the plangent, ringing guitars managing to recall both primetime Stone Roses and something great by Dinosaur Jr, like Start Choppin'. I'm going missing for a while, I've got nothing left to lose sings Smith with all the urgent passion of someone who's just emerged from another bad situation and realized once again that life is just chockfull of possibilities.
And it doesn't stop there. Closing the album, Kiss You Better contains perhaps the record's most perfectly encapsulated moment when Smith demands, You! Are you so scared that you're just going to let it happen?! And it sounds like a vital personal question to everyone listening; a rallying cry for anyone not dealing with their sh-t, when in truth it's probably just Paul asking another girl why she's copping off with someone else and not himâ€¦again.
Oh, yes, did I mention sexual frustration? Not all the frustration set out on A Certain Trigger is directed at the pen pushers of petty bureaucracy. A fair amount, in fact, most of Paul's tension seems to stem from his singular inability to do as well as he'd like with the ladies. (i.e. Night I Lost My Head, Apply Some Pressure, Postcard Of A Painting and Signal & Sign ). But that's another story.