With a majority of their contemporaries suffering from varying degrees of sophomore slumping, Our Earthly Pleasures is Maxïmo Park's chance to make a move for pole position in the scene. And they've come prepared with a not-so-secret weapon: singer Paul Smith, who delivers wry witticisms in a dramatic rolling brogue that bring his band's urgent bursts of angularity to life.
Coming across like a hopped-up Jarvis Cocker channeling Morrissey, Smith's singular persona lifted the band's debut album, A Certain Trigger, above the increasingly crowded fray of the U.K.'s twitchy, guitar-driven indie bands. Best exemplified on songs like "Apply Some Pressure," Maxïmo Park's idiosyncratic charisma and left-field song arrangements showed much promise.
Replacing A Certain Trigger producer Paul Epworth (Bloc Party, the Futureheads) with studio vet Gil Norton (best known for his work on the Pixies' legendary Doolittle album), Maxïmo Park's characteristic quirkiness has been refined to a more straightforward, guitar-rock gloss. Smith still sings about the volatile chemistry between girls and boys in his own inimitable style, tossing off lines like "Last night did we go too far/is that why your nose is bleeding?" (from "Nosebleed") with casual aplomb.
They still have a way with melody and manipulating whiplash tempo changes, but their approach is much more mature and controlled. That works swimmingly both on upbeat rockers like "Girls Who Play Guitars" and the melancholy "Books From Boxes," which plays like R.E.M. covering the Smiths.
While the album starts to lose a little steam towards the end, Our Earthly Pleasures has already made a distinctive point. Its ambitions reach far beyond the casual indie fan looking for easily digestible hits, and for that alone should be applauded. The fact that they pull off a couple of surefire hits anyway makes it even more laudable.
(originally published at Metromix.com)