When I was about sixteen, a friend introduced me to Maxïmo Park in a very Maxïmo Park way: she played me Our Velocity off her phone, through one earphone, in the town-centre where we used to hang out after school on Friday evenings. Ramshackle though they sound, there’s actually something quite romantic about the chalk ‘n’ cheese experimentalism of the songs on Our Earthly Pleasures (the aggressive, verse/chorus key change on opener Girls Who Play Guitars; the unexpected step-up to the bridge on Books from Boxes; every, nosebleed-inducing second of Our Velocity).
There’s a bit of this to be found on Risk to Exist. The playful title track, for example, makes you wait two minutes for the chorus, which, upon arrival, begins on an awkward (but entirely welcome) chord. It starts with choppy stabs on guitar and drums; there’s this weird, organ-y synth circling around in the mix; etc. etc. There’s only so far this formula can travel however, and for the most part, this album finds itself unable to achieve take-off.
This album sounds like a demos collection. The structures feel unfinished and unembellished, despite promising suggestions – the thick, distorted licks populating Work and Then Wait; the fat, sugary synthesiser programming on Respond to the Feeling. I don’t know as there’s much else going on really. I wouldn’t knock it ‘til you try it, but it’s far from their best.
From the beginning, there’s an established tension between fun dynamics and songs determined to fall short. What Did We Do… has a chorus predicated on monosyllabic sounds and staccato playing, but it’s the only punch line in the otherwise uninspiring sitcom that Maxïmo Park’s arrangements have become. Similar complexities appear throughout the album, but they’re never justified. Alchemy goes round and round and round on a lyric about website terms and conditions (done much better on Father John Misty’s upcoming Pure Comedy track, The Memo). Excited, rhythmic bass distortion drives Get High (No, I Don’t), and there’s some weird drum timing employed on I’ll Be Around, but a general lack of catchy melodies leaves everything floundering despite initial moments of excitement. Unfortunately, Paul Smith’s lyrics aren’t doing much either. The whole affair is sort of… old. To quote one of the deluxe edition track titles, it’s all been done before.
It is, however, only near-glories that Risk to Exist fails to match. Anyone being fair in their recollection of Our Earthly Pleasures, will remember just how patchy that record was – three good singles and Nosebleed. Admittedly, it was a better-produced album (God only knows why, but the band have gone for a looser tone here), but 2017 is hardly a magnificent fall from grace. Maxïmo Park have bobbed comfortably along for the entirety of their being as a band whose every album contains one or two crackers. In that sense, Risk to Exist isn’t bad – it’s just another stepping stone toward the greatest hits compilation that will better every single one of their long-players.