(Billingham Records, out Fri 26 Oct 2018)
Paul Smith is a man more recognised for his frontman duties in the indie band Maximo Park than he is recognised for his hosting duties on The Penguin Podcast. But here we see him in another one of his many guises with his fourth solo album Diagrams: a poetic-in-the-everyday pop record full of love songs and autobiographical woes.
In the album opener The Public Eye, Smith sings of a dissatisfaction with his home country: “A country full of hate / It stands and lies in wait… Convictions without proof.” This song, inspired by the Hostile Environment Policy in Britain, seems to point the finger at the ever-consuming, view-hungry masses and how they have been conditioned into hateful convictions: “You like to pick at my thoughts / What about your own.” The somewhat disgruntled tone throughout the track is smoothed out by Smith’s warm, nerdy bellow. Not to mention the peculiar jovial saxophone solo in the bridge. The highlight, however, comes in the form of John, a jangly love song written about a stranger. Smith is found singing of his admiration for his scrawled-on-door hero: “John / I don’t know what I’d do without you / For I have never even met you / Somebody scratched it with a compass / So it must be true.” What starts off as a carefree tongue-in-cheek expression soon finds Smith lamenting on his own past in a beautifully catchy melody: “School days were the worst days.” There he is bringing everything together and exposing his love as in fact nostalgia-induced sympathy.
The charm felt on previous Maximo Park records was wholly down to the creative, good fun and near-juvenile sound of the band, coupled with the fervent lyricism of Smith. Now, throughout Diagrams, we often hear the impressive lyric-mind of Smith; passionate and eloquent as ever, but not being given the right foundation musically, leaving some lulls in the album. All things considered, Diagrams is a tame but pleasant listen.