Given To The Wild
, January 17th, 2012 11:34
Ever since the bottom fell out of reedy-post-punk mid-last decade, fundamentally lightweight indie acts have taken to making grand statements. The efforts of say, Foals, to survive the scrappy-angular purge involved contriving profundity from self-consciously massive vistas. While you can't begrudge the desire of a band to grow, the leap from callow urchin rock to The Joshua Tree-with-art ticks involved stretching very little a very long way.
The Maccabees' contribution to the 'super-indie' canon, in the shape Wall Of Arms and now Given To The Wild, sees them ahead of the pack. While their latest effort shows traces of the airy-fairy meaningless of their earlier incarnations there is substance here, even if it's all flowers and honey. The air of sweet sorrow that blankets their music seems now to be less like indie boys fetishizing an abstract sadness, and more like something homegrown, which usually means the difference between 'moping' and 'dealing with pain through music'. And the bigger the band go - on midpoint cloud-burster 'Went Away', the epic 'Go' (featuring a somehow ideal rock guitar solo) and third act climax 'Grew Up At Midnight' - the more fulfilling the experience. For the first time, The Maccabees now fully inhabit those overwhelming soars and the cathedral reverb. Previously, this would have been mere hot air.
Until now, the 'idea' of the Maccabees has been half-formed and disparate. But this is sonically coherent, as opposed to a bric-a-brac of Wall of Arms. In addition, there's a big plus in that, unlike Foals and The Horrors on the insipidly oblique Total Life Forever and messy Skying respectively, this lot have kept one eye on the pop prize. Ultimately however, there's a reason why the Maccabees are yet to make a classic for the ages. It has much to do with the difference between art and illustration, elegance and poetry, personal truths and universal ones, and epiphany-inducing beauty and heartfelt prettiness.
For pretty it is. With their melodic chops in career-best bloom, then beautified further by a soft-focus production treatment, the word is lush: there’s a gauzy patina, communicating something like contentment. It suggests a mellowness that comes with ageing, something further suggested by a tentative intro track. Here, the insatiable thrust and furious churn of youth decompresses into a sighing recline. The image evoked is of a child being beckoned into adulthood by an angel, in the form of Orlando Weeks' far-off calls.
Yet despite the perma-heroic pitch, this a humble album. It’s a quality which, for all their self-defeating content, was never really The Maccabees strong suite during the crypto-arch era of post Lib's indie. The opening four songs - all thoughtful composure and welcoming ambience - seem a slow, descending alignment to the level of the listener; a reassuring gesture of shared humanity. It's a disposition which holds fast when the time comes for lift-off in the second half. "Are we so different?" asks 'Heave'. A giving and lambent album, Given to the Wild is resolutely The Maccabees best. But again...is it art? Soothing and nourishing are not the same as enlightening.
Yet it may be enough just to enjoy the craft, the band presenting an assured and accomplished version of themselves after a decade in operation. Listening to track after track of appealing melodies (contrary to reports, there isn't a radio hit between them), you can imagine they have another half-dozen equally pleasing albums in them. But to breach that special firmament of greatness and far-reaching significance they perhaps covet, the Brighton boys are going to have to dig deeper.