Like Brandon Flowers of the Killers before him, and Kele of Bloc Party before him, Maximo Park frontman Paul Smith has decided to strike out on his own - for the time being anyway - and record a debut solo album. ‘Margins’ is being released on Smith’s own label, Billingham Records, the label that put out Maximo’s first vinyl and is named after the small town just south of Newcastle where Smith was born. ‘Margins’ came out of several years of Smith writing on his own, then recording them at the home of mate Andy Hodgson (the Matinee Orchestra, Warm Digits). Furthering this as a Northeast endeavour were Field Music’s Brewis brothers: David played bass on the album, and Peter assisted with the one-take recording of album track ‘While You’re in the Bath’.
‘North Atlantic Drift’ starts ‘Margins’ off promisingly; promisingly, that is, if you’re a Maximo Park fan. This sounds like it could have easily been an outtake from the ‘Quicken the Heart’ sessions. ‘Strange Friction’ is an attempt to get this album on a more mainstream pop course and again, not surprisingly, you can hear whispers of Maximo.
‘I Drew You Sleeping’ is gorgeous, Smith’s voice sliding along the upbeat guitar lines, but one seriously questions the wisdom of the strange dissonant bridges that break up the otherwise perfect piece of pop. Nevertheless, this track will for sure be a crowd-pleaser on Smith’s solo tour of the UK this winter. Another winner is ‘Dare Not Dive’, the one song on this album that could be reasonably classified as true rock. If only there were more tracks on here like this one. ‘Our Lady of Lourdes’ has already hit the airwaves so you’ve likely heard it already; Smith’s voice is fine but not a standout like the hypnotic guitar melody. So much potential gone unrealised.
Listening to the album, it’s far too easy to get distracted and aggrieved by the blatant overuse of reverb and echo. ‘The Crush and the Shatter’, ‘I Wonder If’ and ‘Improvement/Denouement’ have reverb effects that recalls the Doors or ’60s psychedelic tracks, and not in a good way. Smith has a great voice, but when it’s put through echoey corridors, it’s unintentional (and thoroughly unsuccessful) aping of Simon and Garfunkel. The strangest offering is ‘Alone, I Would’ve Dropped’, which starts off as spoken word, Smith soldiering on through it like he’s trying to channel Jim Morrison on acid. It’s not pretty.
Far better is ‘While You’re in the Bath’, featuring Smith’s fragile vocal and a single guitar. This is Smith, warts and all, voice cracking in emotion, not always hitting the right notes, but that’s okay. When a man is in love and can put it into words, it’s a beautiful thing. While it’s no ‘Yesterday’, it’s a good effort. ‘Pinball’ is of a similar vein, but with the good addition of strings. If Paul Smith is going to make a go of being a solo artist, he’d best stop fiddling with the reverb dials and stick with wearing his heart on his sleeve, guitar in hand.
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