The Geordie boys, Maxïmo Park, are back with their best album yet. The National Health is the band’s fourth release and yet another departure, in style, from their earlier albums. It’s packed with some great tracks, which are set to become indie anthems, good enough to rival such “choons” as ‘Books From Boxes’ and ‘Girls Who Play Guitars’ from Our Earthly Pleasures. However, this is their most varied record so far and its songs vary from mellow to borderline techno in style.
The album starts softly with the piano based ‘When I Was Wild’. For committed fans of the band, like myself, this seems to be an odd choice. Maxïmo Park have never released anything so relaxed before, yet it transpires that this opening actually alludes to some of the more tender songs featured later on. The most extreme of these is the rare acoustic number, ‘Unfamiliar Places’. However, tracks such as ‘The Undercurrents’, ‘Reluctant Love’ and ‘This Is What Becomes of the Broken Hearted’, also have some surprisingly beautiful and ballad-like qualities, yet they retain the band’s usual energy at the same time. For me, although they are different, they are the best tracks on the album.
As well as successfully exploring new genres, the band also tries out some different tones. Lucas Wooler, in particular, tries out some new effects on keys. Although he still uses the traditional piano tone, tracks such as the brilliant, lead single, ‘Hips & Lips’ and ‘Banlieue’ rely on heavily synthetic sounding electronics, which fit surprisingly well into the mix. Singer, Paul Smith, is also experimenting with a different style. His vocals are much lower than before, in parts, allowing for real moments of contrast when his singing takes off and soars through the choruses. Continuity with earlier albums is kept by the other members of the band, though. The rhythm section is just as driving as ever and the guitar work, although never too difficult, ties it all together nicely.
All in all, The National Health is an incredible album. It deals with everything from heart ache to the economic recession and spans a variety of different musical genres. Yet somehow, most impressively of all, it feels cohesive. What’s more is that every track is incredibly catchy and, (aside from the opener), easy to sing along too. This isn’t just a return to form, but exceeds everything that the band has previously released and more than makes up for the disappointment of Quicken the Heart.