The Maccabees - Wall of Arms
Rhian Daly 19/05/2009
2009 seems likely to be the year where the dreaded “difficult second album” cliche is well and truly put to bed. Already The Horrors have gone from cartoon goth-punks to wall of sound MBV-alikes, and Jack Penate looks set to continue the trend with a more Italo-disco influenced sophomore effort. Will Brighton-via-South-London boys The Maccabees help disspell the terrifying myth further or will Wall of Arms be yet another record to fall foul of the curse?
Lead single No Kind Words caused many to declare a new, darker direction for 2007's indie poster boys but if you're hoping for a whole record of ominous, monotonous pop songs, you might want to realign your expectations. Whilst the centre piece is of a different angle to the one the band usually take, its surrounded on both sides by more of the usual in chirpy, cheerful guitar pop that was the reason we all fell in love with the Maccabees in the first place. Wall of Arms isn't just a remake of their debut, Colour It In, though. Across its eleven tracks, it shows a new maturity and growth in the both the boys' musical ability and ambitions. Opening proceedings (and undoubtedly one of the singles of the year thus far), Love You Better weaves a mist of distinctive guitars with regal brass (played by the same musicians who appear on Arcade Fire's previous releases), whilst Orlando Weeks' tremulous reverb-heavy vocals guiding the song to its climax and into the next. Simple and majestic, its a leap ahead of what the quintet were producing two years ago.
One Hand Holding, with its earnestly barked chorus of “why would you kill it before it dies?” is the next to showcase just how much the Maccabees have grown. Whilst they still retain their pop sensibilities that made Colour It In so lovable, there's the sense here that they've got something to prove - perhaps that they're not just one trick indie disco ponies. With producer Markus Dravs at the helm, they've managed to create a grandiose statement record, fit to burst with emotion and lyrics that will break your heart before picking up the pieces and sewing them carefully back together.
And thats where Wall of Arms excels - lyrically, Weeks has improved tenfold since he and his group first emerged onto the scene, littering the record with poetic gems ('I keep this pillow, its such a poor substitute for a soul') and absurdly accurate social commentary ('And isn't it bizarre/the adults that we are/still playing follow the leader'). Elsewhere he unravels stories of love - not the search for but rather the experience of being in - engaging the listener with elegant imagery that is in keeping with the sophisticated and graceful nature of Weeks' band's accompaniment.
As the album progresses towards its conclusion, there's no letting up in quality - The Maccabees are nothing if not consistent in their output, it would seem. Closer Bag of Bones rounds things off nicely, a slow and stately end to a record that should catapult everyone's favourite South Londoners to the dizzy heights of indie royalty.