Sound — 9
Four years after releasing their third full-length, the disco-tinged "Quicken The Heart", Maximo Park return with LP number four. The band had previously released a 12" vinyl of remixes (imaginatively titled "12") and stated that it was to mark "the end of the trilogy", which led fans to believe the band could be calling it quits, but fortunately after a breather another 40:22 of material was committed to tape. And what a 40:22 it is. The hushed, cello-backed piano chords of "When I Was Wild" were put at the head of the album to disorientate the listener, although it's only about a minute before Lukas lets the final chord stab ring out and title track (the band's first) "The National Health" batters you around the head with it's humongous opening riff. The album then descends into dark disco, something that featured quite heavily on "TNH"'s predecessor "Quicken The Heart", but it's not overdone as straight after lead single "Hips And Lips" comes "The Undercurrents", possibly the biggest tug on your heartstrings you'll ever experience. The band definitely get the balance right between their individual writing styles, with balls-to-the-wall rock tracks such as "The National Health" and "Write This Down" making way for more early Maximo-sounding songs like "Until The Earth Would Open" and "Take Me Home" to come back to the surface, as well as slotting disco thumpers like "Banlieue" into the mix. The album ends with arguably the band's most experimental track to date, the off-kilter time signature-fest that is "Waves Of Fear", marking a triumphant return.
Lyrics — 9
Although the lyrical style of frontman Paul Smith doesn't change much throughout the band's repertoire, they have always been lyrics that can mean a lot to the listener. His relationship woes have provided fist-in-the-air moments of elation for fans of the band all across the globe, and although, for me, the ability to relate to his words was strained on "Quicken The Heart", "The National Health" provides some life affirming lines. "Take Me Home" documents the longing when dropping your partner off at the corner of their street, while "Hips And Lips" voices every man's thoughts during an argument ("The way you stick out your lips/And keep your hands on your hips/And I'm supposed to know what that means"). The emotions certainly swell on this album, Smith's voice definitely sounds stronger and more soulful, and no more is it more poignant than on "The Undercurrents". To me, that song is everything good in music, and I dare you not to be moved by "I won't forget the way you forgave me" as a chorus. There are some more forgettable songs, for example the hushed drawl of "Banlieue" doesn't hide particularly insightful lyrics, but if you enjoyed the more abstract lines on "Our Earthly Pleasures" you'll still find plenty to like here.
Overall Impression — 10
This album is a showcase of how Maximo Park have evolved since 2005's "A Certain Trigger", the jangling guitars of that album coming back to prominence, but keeping the spanking rock/piano driven anthems of "Our Earthly Pleasures" and the dark, twisted disco offerings of "Quicken The Heart" into one killer, classic, bright pink package. All of the songs have the capability to become your favourite, whether you're nuts about Duncan Lloyd's guitar playing, a lyrical fanatic (like myself), or prefer Lukas Wooler's dancey offerings. As I've stated quite firmly in the last two sections, "The Undercurrents" is one of the band's finest moments, while I also find "This Is What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted" a fantastic song. This album came at just the right time in my life, I worried that I would possibly outgrow my favourite band but they returned and proved to me that I will always relate to their songs. The final track on the album, "Waves Of Fear", could have been written to dispel that exact feeling, the final line "We're not going to leave/until you're ready" could be a reference to the band's willingness to keep writing until people stop buying the records. I certainly hope it is. To answer the classic UG review question, if this album were stolen I would buy it again without a second thought. It's backed up on my computer and iPod, but to me, this is an album that belongs in your record collection as a physical, touchable thing.