You get the impression that Paul Smith’s solo ventures are less something that are supposed to evolve from album to album and more an outlet for him try his hand at whatever’s interesting him during downtime between Maximo Park records. The Geordie outfit’s frontman turned in a soaring, eyes-to-the-sky debut in the form of 2010’s ‘Margins’, just when his band had stumbled on 2009’s ‘Quicken the Heart’, and he ventured further off the beaten path when he collaborated experimentally with Peter Brewis of Field Music on ‘Frozen by Sight’ four years ago. A year later came the back-to-basics pop collection ‘Contradictions’, and now, with ‘Diagrams’, he’s beginning to broaden his horizons again.
Opener ‘The Public Eye’, which casts a withering thematic gaze over social media in the same way as St Vincent’s ‘Digital Witness’ did, sounds as if it’s carrying on in the same vein as ‘Contradictions’ - up until the last minute ushers in a discordant saxophone, at least. ‘Diagrams’ is littered with these kinds of experiments and some work better than others; the guitars on ‘Around and Around’ and ‘John’ pleasingly recall the breezy stylings of early Real Estate or Best Coast, while the quiet ambience of ‘Lake Burley Griffin’ and The Beauty Corner’ matches the nostalgia of the lyrics. Elsewhere, ‘Syrian Plains’ pairs a clanging instrumental with a staccato vocal delivery to awkward effect, and ‘Silver Rabbit’’s low-key punk blast feels rushed. Paul’s commitment to trying new things is to be lauded, but it does mean ‘Diagrams’ lacks cohesion; it feels less an album and more a collection of ideas, some thrilling, others less so.