As Maximo Park prepare to unleash latest single ‘The Undercurrents’ from their fourth album, The National Health, leading man Paul Smith walks us through the thought processes behind each track on the album, and the poignant lyrics that run throughout.
When I Was Wild
“In a shadow world/Running parallel/The present follows me/At first it’s hard to tell”
This song deals with the notion that there are (at least) two possible ways to live each moment or deal with a situation. It starts the album on a questioning note, with the narrator wondering if they have made the right choices especially in their wilder moments.
The National Health
“Serendipity took a hold of me/Fellini couldn’t have dreamt of this”
I thought it would be fun to drop a few names in this song – Houdini is mentioned in the first bridge and Federico Fellini, the Italian director known for his dream-sequences, appears in the second bridge. Lyrically, these famous names lighten the mood in a fairly aggressive number about finding yourself adrift in a sickly nation.
Hips And Lips
“Your face will fall/But let’s try to keep it together/The blade withdraws/Before the knot starts to sever”
There’s a moment in every argument where you have the choice to take a step back or whether to say/do something that will cause irreparable damage to the relationship – this is about that decisive point!
“Tyres rush through/Rainwater fresh/Sounds like a shell/Held to an ear/Same as the house where I was raised/Safe in a haven single-glazed”
I like to write descriptive parts to all of the songs so the listener can get a sense of place within the song and these words had a nice ring to them. When I was a kid I listened to the traffic outside as it drove past in the rain.
Write This Down
“Stealing post-punk posters’From your sister’s room/Gossamer voices rising from speakers/In a Prefabricated plume’
When we recorded this song, at Rockfield Studio in Wales, we extended the middle eight at the last minute so the second two lines were a last-minute addition. I wanted to have some details about the disastrous summer romance outlined in the rest of the song and since this part was quite dreamy I felt I could be quite elaborate with a lyric about listening to Prefab Sprout in a teenage bedroom and nicking Joy Division posters.
“We lie horizontal, holding hands/And the symmetry is all too clear”
Again, this painted a picture in my mind of two lovers both contemplating their relationship, simultaneously.
Until The Earth Would Open
“We could drive until the earth would open/Take me to the verge of England’s ocean/Tonight suggests so much.”
I wanted to write an English version of the classic American driving song, only there are less wide open spaces in this country so the obvious alternative is the coast, which feels like the end of the world sometimes.
“Pixellated punishment/Desire’s the only crime/The calmness of the pack/Whose power is in decline/These violent dreams are nothing new/Don’t think that she won’t leave you”
This song is partially about young women reclaiming power from male gang members who abuse them and record their vile acts on mobile phones. I read an article about a particular situation in the French suburbs where some girls felt they would be part of the gang if they submitted to peer pressure, but the biggest act of refusal, ultimately, became their unwillingness to remain subservient and loyal to their abusers.
This Is What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted
“Commitment never seemed like a risk/But that’s the way it is.
I wrote this because commitment sometimes seems like the safest option and stability can appear staid and dull! However, I’ve come to realise that it’s a constant struggle that is somehow very satisfying to maintain and feels very worthwhile, like a strange balancing act.
Wolf Among Men
“Homo homini lupus est”
I thought it would be funny to have a bit of Latin in the middle eight of this song – it has its own musicality that fitted with Dunc’s guitar line. It comes from a quote by Thomas Hobbes – “Man is a wolf among his fellow men” that I had in my notebook. His theory (from 1651) that mankind was inherently selfish was based on lines from a play by the Roman playwright, Plautus, and still holds true today – we are our own worst enemies at times.
Take Me Home
“And the moon is hidden tonight/By a swab of cotton sodden with light/And this is our street corner/Where no-one else has kissed goodnight”
I like the idea of mixing slightly complex, poetic phrases with very simple sentiments and emotions- it’s a fine balance and I’m sure I teeter over the edge one way or the other in some people’s opinion! Again, the first phrase sprang out from my notebook, detailing a clouded moon, and it seemed like a good opening line that sets the scene. The second phrase is something I hope listeners will relate to – that certain place that lingers in the memory after a romantic moment.
“Don’t be scared of the life you’re making./Making decisions on your own.”
A lot of the songs on this record are about encouraging someone to make a change in their own life, whether it’s the narrator (me!) or addressing someone else. It is scary to make crucial decisions and it’s easy to put things off, but I think it makes you feel more helpless than you need to be, generally-speaking. This song is about being away from someone and they keep popping up in your mind making you wonder how they’re doing.
Waves Of Fear
“High company/Means nothing to me/I’ve cleansed myself of shame/I’m second-class ingrained.”
I’m sick of hierarchies and class systems and people feeling like they’re inherently better than someone else because of their upbringing. I’m proud of who I am and my background, but that gives me no sense of superiority (or inferiority). This song is about overcoming your fears and woes, feeling stronger instead of apathetic.
New single ‘The Undercurrents’ will be released on 20 August through V2.