25 April 2009

>>>The Maccabees>>>Wall Of Arms>>>
Impassioned, slightly "Landan", slightly Robert Smith-esque vocals? Check. Trademark sense of jittery immediacy in the music? Check. Album cover that is a bit twee and slightly creey? Check. Reverb? Check. Horns? Check ....wait; reverb and horns...on a Maccabees record? It's a sure sign that we're in for something different on Wall of Arms. Clearly moving on from the romantic indie of their debut "Colour It In", The Maccabees sound is more spacious, more ambitious and catchier than ever.

Pre-album mutterings and reviews about "Arcade Fire" are half right. In many songs there is a similar sense of epicness of that Canadian septet that seems more suited for for stadiums and festival mainstages than the Academys and Barflys that The 'bees are regularly found playing. Opener and lead single "Love You Better" is the perfect example of the majority of "Wall Of Arms"; bright, breezy, echoey but with a hint of melancholy. Fitting with the 21st Century Rule Of Indie, the chorus is just "I will love you better" repeated ad infintum, but it never becomes annoying, instead working with every other element of the song to create what should be a massive hit for the band. If you don't love it, then you're either a) a cold hearted misanthrope b) a death metal fan or c) dead inside. And it's not even the best song here.

There's a certain something about The Maccabees that makes sure you connect with at least one thing in their songs. Either the won't-sit-still post-punk of their debut, their inherent Englishness, the open romance of the lyrics or something else you just can't put your finger on. Songs such as "One Hand Holding" introduce a rather summery - you could even call it calypso - edge to the proceedings and they're accessible to virtually everyone, even if 'relationship suicide' isn't everyone's cup of tea for summer songs. "Can You Give It?" has a bassline that's waaay to jaunty for it's own good as well as an opening guitar line that deserves to be heard from a main stage and a chorus that needs to be shouted back. The title track and "Young Lions" continues in the same vein, with Orlando Weeks' plaintitive throaty vocals ideal warming the cockles of any heart and the former seeing the return of the horns to augment the sound perfectly. The band's musical ability is highlighted superbly throughout these first four tracks; bouncing basslines, rumbling drums and guitar stabs at all the right moments, as well as a well-orchestrated wall of sound on the title track.

But as the album leads you into thinking you're getting the perfect summer album, it brings up the biggest suprise of "No Kind Words". Released as a download a month or so ago, it's a world away from the usual Maccabees output; dark, spacious, ominous. It sounds like a lost Joy Division track, low basslines and spiky guitar. Yet, suprisingly, it's really catchy. Must be the band's special taleny. It's certainly a refreshing change, but there's yet another suprise at the end. Whereas the download version was just the song alone, this album version includes an added instrumental section at the very end which is the opposite of "NKW", blissed out, cheerful. It's all a bit unexpected. "Dinosaurs" sees the horns brought out again. It appears they're here to stay in The Maccabees' sound and they're all the better for them. As "Wall Of Arms" progresses, it becomes more and more clear that The 'bees are headed for the Indie Premier League. Whilst it's unlikely they'll ever reach the youth culture-uniting realms of Arctic Monkeys, The Maccabees are definitely on the up.

They say "save the best 'till last". "Wall Of Arms" certainly does that. The final three tracks are three of the best this year with The Maccabees romanticism and unforgettable melodies brought to the fore and allowed to shine. This may sound like hyperbole, but trust me, it's far from it. Anyone who listens to "William Powers" should fall completely in love with it, even if they hate "na na na" chants. "Seventeen Hands" is a slow burner but turns out to be a majestic piece of indie-pop. "Bag Of Bones", the album's closer, is a beautiful ballad, the kind of thing that The Maccabees have always seemed capable of doing; perfect lilting, almost dreaming pop. It's a fitting end to an album that has seen, formerly, one of the most promising bands in Britain mature and find what they excel at. If The Maccabees keep on in this direction then music lovers are very lucky indeed.
ESSENTIAL TRACKS: "Love You Better", "Can You Give It?", "Young Lions", "No Kind Words", "William Powers", "Seventeen Hands", "Bag Of Bones".
FOR FANS OF: The Cribs, Jack Peñate, The Wombats, all things happy, fun and pop.


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