The Maccabees’ debut album Colour It In, released in 2007, featured some sterling tunes but was perhaps a bit too derivative for its own good: drawing on influences like XTC and Gang of Four, the Brighton-based five-piece were late contributors to the then-fading post-punk revival that had been instigated by bands like Franz Ferdinand, The Futureheads, Dogs Die In Hot Cars and Bloc Party. Still, there was plenty of potential evident in their jerky, energetic compositions and singer Orlando Weeks’ trembling vocals had a distinctive charm of their own.
The release of ‘No Kind Words’ a few weeks back indicated a change of direction: the vocals sounded meaner, the guitars more menacing, the atmosphere more charged and tense, while the similarly dark lyrics alluded to infidelity (“Dear friend of mine is testing his body/Tempting disaster/Testing water with another’s daughter”). It seemed that slightly twee ditties about toothpaste kisses were firmly a thing of the past.
Wall Of Arms’ opening track, ‘Love You Better’ doesn’t dispel the notion, but it’s not quite in the same vein as ‘No Kind Words’ (included here) either: it’s an earnest, impassioned, ‘big’ sounding composition; steadily and deliberately paced, its echoing guitars and reverbed vocals build a sense of anticipation as the song swells into a brass-propelled crescendo. It also proves to be more representative of the album as a whole. On paper, that sounds like the kind of thing that’s going to have many people running back to their Animal Collective records: the world certainly doesn’t lack for fervent, well-meaning guitar bands at this point in time, and being subjected to ‘soul-stirring’ music from the likes of Editors, Snow Patrol or Razorlight over the last few years is enough to make Metal Machine Music sound like a merciful alternative. Nevertheless, the Maccabees bring a pleasing lightness of touch to the formula, avoiding the overblown pompousness that sunk An End Has a Start or the insufferable mawkishness that did for Snow Patrol’s last two records.
Many reviewers have already made copious references to Arcade Fire, and it’s not hard to see why: Weeks’ tremulous, impassioned warbling is highly reminiscent of Win Butler’s style, and the wordless choral vocals on songs like ‘Dinosaurs’ and the title track have the stamp of Funeral all over them. It’s probably no coincidence that the album is produced by Markus Dravs, who also worked on Neon Bible: the intro to ‘Young Lions’, indeed, is a dead ringer for that album’s title track.
Musically, however, it’s less complex and ambitious than all the Arcade Fire comparisons might suggest. ‘One Hand Holding’ is driven along by a limber bassline and a guitar riff almost as catchy as the “Why would you kill it before it dies?” chorus, the exuberant ‘Can You Give It’ will probably prove a live favourite with its bouncy rhythm and handclap-friendly outro, while ‘Wall of Arms’ has enough off-kilter charm about it to overcome its painfully obvious influences.
Overall, it’s enjoyable stuff, if hardly in danger of pushing any envelopes. It might be a stretch to call it essential, but we’d be quite happy to hear this blaring out of car windows come the hot summer days.