With Nature Always Wins, Maxïmo Park are among the first British bands to release an album recorded during the chaos of all that was 2020: coronavirus, lockdown, protests, political explosions and, broadly, pleasant people having a shit time and bastards having a ball. Within this context, before my first listen to the band’s new album I prepared myself for a sombre, ponderous record with cobwebs hanging off it. I couldn’t have been more wrong—and I’m thrilled about it.
On Nature Always Wins, songwriter and singer Paul Smith digs deep, drawing on both intensely personal and universal experiences to build an album filled with soaring, synth-y, danceable tracks filled with less angst and more insight than their previous outings. As a die-hard fan of angry young folks chucking guitars about, on my first listen I was surprised: while some tracks—Ardour and I Don’t Know What I’m Doing—retain that classic Maxïmo Park clatter, there are moments on Nature Always Wins that are disarmingly tender and raw. Combine this with some top-notch production (all the more impressive for having been composed remotely during the first lockdown) plus the band’s knack for churning out addictive bass hooks, and you have an album that is absolutely charming.
Broaching subjects as dark as the Grenfell Tower tragedy (Why Must a Building Burn?), it would be easy for this album to collapse into itself, stewing in frustration and sorrow. What I found stupefying however, is that despite the subject matter being heavy in parts, this record never feels bleak. In fact it feels the opposite: on tracks such as Baby Sleep and All Of Me, the optimism overflows. Through it all, there’s a palpable belief that things can change; that despite everything, joy isn’t out of reach just yet.
So what gives? How, given the four years we’ve just endured, how can a band collaborate together on Zoom calls in the midst of a global pandemic and come up with something so unrelentingly bright? One playthrough is enough to understand the whole of it: in raising his four year old daughter, Paul Smith has found new meaning. It’s never more evident than in the riotous guitar squiggles and the disco-punk drums of I Don’t Know What I’m Doing—one of the album’s best tracks.
It’s refreshing to hear a rock band inspired by the everyday, familial loves we take for granted; I can’t remember the last time I listened to a guitar tune that wasn’t primarily concerned with lust or substances. No band can sing about the same old topics forever, and twenty one years after they first formed, on Nature Always Wins Maxïmo Park have found an incredibly endearing, energy-packed, romantic source of inspiration in parenthood. It’s perhaps demonstrated best by the bold sincerity of lines such as ‘I never felt that love could be so strong for more than two’. The tenderness and wide-eyed, naive joy of the record feels like something the world could really use a dose of right about now—so do yourself a solid and take it for a spin on your next gloomy lockdown walk. This record’ll part the clouds.