Maximo Park are back with their seventh album, Risk to Exist, an album which was inspired by recent political events both in the UK and internationally. In a recent interview, frontman Paul Smith commented that the band “wanted to say something about the way the world is.” While they have never shied away from engaging with the world in the past, the writing has had a less direct, more personal approach, with Smith battling out his own existential crises in three-minute bursts of energetic, danceable indie pop. In the new material, there is a definite change to a style which is clearly a commentary on current events, such as austerity, Brexit and the refugee (or “economic migrant,” depending on which paper you read) crisis.
When this commentary is coupled with their familiar heart-on-sleeve, emotive and anthemic leanings, such as on lead single Risk to Exist, it works brilliantly. In writing about refugees from a very direct, first person perspective (“Throw your arms around me/ Before the waves all swallow me/ I cannot breathe/ Put your arms around me/ I’ve come too far and the ocean’s deep/Where’s your empathy?”) it’s emotive and true, channeling the visceral passion that is usually deployed for their many songs dealing with complex relationships.
In other songs, it can all feel rather essayistic and po-faced. While opening track What Have We Done to You to Deserve This contains spot-on criticism of the gross inequality which has increased dramatically under Conservative policies (“You look out for your mates and yourself and that’s natural, I’d say/ But then you trample over the less well-off and downtrodden they stay/ You forgot to mention the fact that inequality remains/ And opportunity rarely knocks if your background is viewed with disdain”) it feels overly earnest, especially over the smooth funk of the track.
Musically, there is a classic 80s post-punk sound throughout the album, reminiscent of Magazine and Orange Juice. It’s very heavy on the rhythm section, with a lot less of their signature noisy guitars and anthemic choruses. While this works well on the first track, it can feel repetitive and boring throughout the course of a whole album. Bar Risk to Exist, there’s nothing to match the moody electro of Leave This Island or frenetic energy of Give, Get, Take from 2014’s Too Much Information. While their desire to experiment and grow as band is commendable, Risk to Exist lacks the immediacy of their best work. Altogether a mixed bag, but one still likely to satisfy their loyal fans.