Album Review: The Maccabees – Marks To Prove It

The Maccabees return with a bold and mature follow-up to 2012’s Given To The Wild

Marks to Prove Maccabees

★★★★☆

The song ‘Marks to Prove It’ opens with an addictive guitar riff blasted out by Hugo White and clashing chords strummed fiercely by his brother Felix. An uncharacteristically powerful scream is let out by Felix, energetically delivering a bold statement of maturity. This forceful start, accompanied with expressive and tireless drums from Sam Doyle, then seamlessly blends into the more familiar and distinctive tones of Orlando Weeks’ vocals.

The soft and often clipped vocals seem slightly out of place with the thrashing of the guitars that lay in the background, but the harmonious balance between too heavy and too soft eventually settles. An unusual descending scale marks out the middle section of the song, proving that the band are not afraid to explore new sounds, as they discard their quirky, gentle and musically sparse tones, such as the muffled ‘Toothpaste Kisses’ from Colour It In (2007).

It is clear to see how The Maccabees have developed through their last three albums, particularly in Given To The Wild (2012), which marked The Maccabees as having gone in a different musical direction, with less clanging guitars than Wall of Arms (2009) and much more of a coherent sound, with more experimentation, including the harrowing howling in ‘Feel to Follow’, creating a sophisticated, confident pathway for the band.

Despite the new pathway that Given To The Wild set out for this album, and while they do not necessarily retreat all the way back to their 2007 album, there is still evidence that in Marks to Prove It the band have cautiously looked back to pre-Given To The Wild sounds; sounds they are more used to. The melodies are evocative of their earlier tracks, with the lyrics involving more about love and emotion, rather than the seemingly meaningless (yet still beautiful) poetic ramblings of Given To The Wild.

To someone who knows the band, this is obviously a Maccabees’ creation, not only because of Orlando’s unique vocals, but also because of familiar features which creep in. There are frequent tempo changes throughout the songs, particularly evident in Wall of Arms, and the brass that feature in the same album reappears in this album in the track ‘Something like Happiness’.

This blend between their old and new sounds does work to an extent but it also makes the musical direction more uneven and sporadic rather smooth and consistent. In this way, the album takes the listener on a journey of sorts, as the more full-on vibe in the first few songs gets calmed down to more delicate tones towards the end, lulling the listener into a mesmerised state by the final track.

Hugo’s gentle yet deep singing in ‘Silence’ with Felix and Orlando echoing his every word is hauntingly alluring. The song delivers a beautiful simplicity that charms and hypnotises, similar to that of Hugo’s ‘Hearts that Strangle’ on the Wall of Arms album.

Despite the opening chords of ‘Slow Sun’ sounding a bit like Westlife, the song is eloquent and speaks to the heart, with the lyrics, “the ordinary glory of real love”, reverberating softly throughout. On the other hand, ‘River Song’ speaks to the soul, with the poignant lyrics, “you’re not getting any younger…tell yourself you’re getting wiser…” ringing in the listener’s ear during the chorus. Whilst the songwriting itself may not always be consistent, the band’s strength in their lyrics never fall short of captivating.

The Maccabees’ attention in this album is on maturity and growth. The songs are packed full of lyrics referring to being “old enough” and “wise enough” and the idea of maturity that develops over time resonates in most of the songs. Where the album itself has not perhaps matured totally along with them as a band, it’s clear that they are very persistent in developing, changing and growing over time and try to get that through in each album they produce.

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