2009 was a banner year for shitty indie bands releasing surprisingly decent albums. Wild Beasts rescued themselves from obscurity with their so-far career best Two Dancers and however the hell The Horrors managed to pull the sublime Primary Colours from the ashes of hilarious crapness is anyone’s guess. (Actually I will field that one, the answer is Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and terrifying music video’s Chris Cunningham on production duties). However the most promising career turnaround came in the form of Wall of Arms, The Maccabees’ follow-up to nobody’s favourite debut album Colour it in.
Wall of Arms may have been a little overblown in places, but there’s absolutely no denying that in ‘No Kind Words’, ‘Love You Better’ and ‘William Powers’ it contained a trio of the most heart-grasping and beautifully stirring indie rock tracks written this century.
Its 2011 follow-up, the Mercury nominated Given to the Wild, perhaps lost itself too much in the ethereal echelons of Coldplay self-importance and similar to Chris Martin and his pompous twat-ranch, they forgot to write any memorable tunes. Thankfully The Maccabees’ latest album, Marks to Prove it, sees them come back to Earth with a weighty thud. Although life in the big city is clearly getting them down.
From humble Brighton beginnings where the little rapscallions were almost banned from playing live due to their aggressively enthusiastic audiences, the five piece now find themselves sheltering in Elephant and Castle. A borough in South London proudly boasting Britain’s highest cycle casualty roundabout, where the band spent the last two and a half years recording a fourth album as the area around them became increasingly gentrified. Metaphors between the borough and the band itself are obvious enough even for the fucking Metro to pick up on.
Both have gone through a critical reappraisal, both have gone through a period of homogenisation in order to appeal to a greater section of society. The Maccabees have fortunately managed to come out the other side with something quite beautiful. Marks to Prove it is their most consistent and focused work, featuring some endlessly fascinating and immediate tracks, pumping with a furious energy and a surfeit of off-kilter touches both delicate and swoonfully heavy-hearted.
Album opener ‘Marks to Prove it’ is easily the most exhilarating track on the album, Orlando Weeks’ soft vocals desperately clinging to impatient guitars riffs as they build to a full-throttle chorus, off-set by a spookily descending synth chord that sounds like you’re tumbling down a helter-skelter. However this still isn’t the strongest track on Marks to Prove it. ‘Spit It Out’ similarly moves with an unabated pace, as the volume increases in parallel with Weeks’ incredulity, until it reaches an impassioned, swirling crescendo. ‘WW1 Portraits’ is equally powerful, with an epic soundscape that just manages to stay on the right side of mid-period U2, keeping the earned bombast without straying into outright manipulation. Elsewhere The Maccabees let their softer side show. ‘Kamakura’ and ‘Silence’ particularly speak of the turmoil of either losing or lashing out against those that are close to you. They’re lovely little breathers from the weightier tracks, but carry equal amounts of disquiet.
So despite previous attempts to turn The Maccabees into something they’re not, the band have managed to find a balance between appealing to a wider number of people while still remaining true to their original intentions, as a band with something unique and interesting to say. As for Elephant and Castle, it will continue to appeal to rich developers wishing to tear down affordable housing while marginalising ethnic minorities and pushing them further out of the city. However there’s probably still time for The Maccabees to accomplish that on a fifth album.