The Maccabees – Marks To Prove It

by Camilo Oswald, Sam Watson, and Charlotte Morrison

The Maccabees, having been together for twelve years, are now onto their fourth album, Marks To Prove It. To mark the occasion, we've got three different reviewers on the job for your reading pleasure.

Camilo Oswald

When title track and album opener Marks to Prove It stormed onto radio in April, it sounded like a statement of intent – cleansing the palate after their airy, expansive third album and alluding to a return to the wide-eyed energy of their early indie anthems. This was not the case with the album though. Instead we’re given the most human and unpretentious effort of their career,with dejected tales of “drinking when you’re drunken, chasing down the evening” after “summer’s been and gone.” Such is the path we’re lead down two songs in with the ambivalent Kamakura, a song comprised of an intensely sinister chorus and a dazzlingly beautiful coda – almost reaching a point of alleviation but heart-wrenchingly falling short, ending suddenly.

Ribbon Road is just as disorienting and this unexpected cheerlessness caries onto the piano introduction of Spit it Out – one of their finest songwriting achievements. A double act of heavy piano and guitar lay the foundation of frustration for lyrics about forgetting names but staying out regardless, till Orlando asks, “What are we doing now?” and prays things will get easier. Silence is the articulation of a point of desolation in said night out; Guitarist Hugo White sings with a delivery between Jamie T and Jack Steadman, its weary and wounded touch making it sound like the most brutally existential hangover ever. The bugle-like instrument in Slow Sun, over the sound of commuters gives the track an elegiac feel. The mournful mutterings on what “real love” is, stating “cups of tea on the sofa” and “the lengths that she goes to keep it together” as examples, make one wonder whether this is dissatisfaction or overdue recognition and an ensuing gratitude.

Without warning, the life-affirming and outreaching Something Like Happiness blows the cobwebs off the preceding album. It is poignant, both sonically and lyrically – fancifully wondering what happiness must feel like and experiencing a moment “you just know”. A guitar line soars through the skies in true Maccabees fashion, culminating in a thing of swelling beauty. WW1 Portraits follows suit, emerging as if from shelter after a storm. Taking the idealisation of WWI pilots as inspiration, Orlando assures you, “When the river froze solid you’re still swimming upstream / You’d hold your own in the presence of pauper and a king.” Its rousing climax is followed by desperate repetition of “I’m golden now!”

It is the sound of deliverance, exposing Marks To Prove It as an allegory disguised as an album; one that speaks of how we must reach true depths to realise truly how high we can get. The “what a revelation” mantra on Pioneering Systems says as much, and on Dawn Chorus, Orlando concludes the album with the line “Break it up to make it better” – which says more about the Maccabees than anything, having taken themselves to breaking point only to emerge as a better band than ever.

Picks: Kamakura, Spit It Out, Something Like Happiness, WW1 Pictures

Rating: 4/5

Sam Watson

Way back in 2007, The Maccabees released their debut album Colour It In to mixed reviews; critics said it was too “artsy” and that the band were trying too hard to stand out from a crowd of similar-sounding bands, words they must have taken on board when writing their second album, Wall Of Arms, of which it is hard to find a bad review. As the band have matured, they have started to slow down their music and add more sonic aspects. This was first heard on Given To The Wild and has been followed upon with Marks To Prove It.

The album starts with the title track, which has an exposed bass line that goes on to build into a very lively song, with the piano and guitar parts intertwining, adding to a full sound. Kamakura follows a similar theme and bears close resemblance to Child, the second track off Given To The Wild.

I am a fan of The Maccabees, but the new album does fall into the trap of most songs sounding the same, as often is the case with singers that have very unique voices (see White Lies, Miike Snow and Bastille for example). Ribbon Road, Silence, and River Song are hardly distinguishable from each other, unfortunately. Moving on, Slow Sun, which is very different, opens with a lonely trumpet with the band slowly stepping into the track. Orlando Weeks’ voice is perfect for the part, while the delicate guitar really makes it a highlight of the album. On WW1 Portraits, another highlight, the guitars are replaced by a string section in the first half, again exposing Weeks’ voice, which sounds brilliant. In the second half of the song the guitars are plugged back in and it turns into an angry love song.

The Maccabees’ sound has certainly changed since they released their first album, having grown into something much more original than when they first started. The new album certainly holds some great songs, yet it also contains some seriously average ones. Known for their lively shows (they were the first band to be threatened with a countrywide gigging ban since the Sex Pistols – and that was in 2006 before they had even released an album), Marks To Prove It won’t really add much to the band’s performances; there is no Pelican or Love You Better on this album. While I enjoyed listening to the new album, I can’t remember a single track. They are all well written, the lyrics are up to the usual Maccabees high standard, and Weeks does have a standout voice, but there is nothing extra special about this album.

Rating: 3/5

Picks: Slow Sun, WW1 Portraits

Charlotte Morrison

I must confess: I came to Marks To Prove It as a Maccabees newbie. Despite knowing that they were one of the great British indie bands of the mid-2000s and being told by many people that I would love them, I somehow never managed to sit down with a Maccabees album, until now. Shame on me, I know.

And I must declare that I see now what I was missing. Though I don’t have much context for the album, not being familiar with their previous work, this album is fantastic. Orlando Weeks’ vocals are unique and moving and, with their melancholic tinge, suit the atmosphere of the album perfectly. Their song crafting is excellent, their production dark and lush, and lyrics vivid and poignant.

The album opens to the riotous title track; this song has all of the things that made for a great indie anthem – a catchy chorus, aggressively good bass, guitar, and drum work, and a massive sense of energy. The expansive and nostalgic Kamakura comes next, balancing a tender vocal delivery, explosive chorus, and the wistful lyrics, “Your best friends forgive you / Your best friends forget / You get old”. For me the standout track is the eerie and dramatic Spit It Out, which grows from a delicate piano piece to a momentous anthem with Weeks’ desperate vocals calling out above the final refrain, “The thought of it brought us all down to our knees!”

Altogether Marks To Prove It is well developed, beautifully crafted and sounds like a band performing at their best. I am struck by the maturity of the band’s sound and their talent for dynamic songwriting. The album closes with the superbly orchestrated Dawn Chorus, which introduces a rich brass section and a breathy female choir to the mix. It is a lovely, calm closer to this dynamic album; and firmly closes the deal on my becoming a Maccabees fan.

Picks: Marks To Prove It, Kamakura, Spit It Out

Rating: 4/5