The Maccabees Ring Out The Beauty Of Dark Nights In South London
Despite intra-band tensions, album number four may well be their masterpiece.
With all due respect to local residents, waiting for a night bus at South London’s Elephant & Castle roundabout offers a grim end to even the capital’s best nights out. Dumped at the arse end of the Bakerloo line, and set in front of the ungodly mid 1960s eyesore that is the Elephant & Castle Shopping Centre with its bingo hall, 99p stores, Wimpy and Polish eateries, this is not a place you might expect to find people named Orlando, Felix, Hugo or Rupert.
And then, of course, plonked in the middle of the roundabout is the Faraday Memorial, once rumoured to be the home of Richard D. James (aka Aphex Twin), and now adorned on the cover of The Maccabees fourth album, 'Marks To Prove It'.
Recorded at their own Elephant Studios and billed, according to Orlando, as a tribute to the night time of an “inner city stripped back”, this by all accounts was a difficult album to make.
Like the shopping centre, more than once condemned to demolition, the band are true survivors who it seems were near breaking point themselves in producing this - their best LP so far.
The title track opens this collection with some aplomb, its nervy post-punk riffage hinting of a frantic album to come, but that never happens and from second track ‘Kamakura’ onwards it’s clear we’re in for a darker more expansive sound.
“The summer’s been and gone,” croons Orlando in setting the scene before cranking up the violence in “giving a bloody nose to the best friend he knows”.
Like all the best rock albums, it’s all about tension and release. By the opening bars of ‘Spit It Out’ it’s all gone a bit Claude Debussy, before a crescendo of guitars let loose on an ear-splitting key change.
“It’s gonna get easier from now on,” Orlando screams. If only we could believe him.
What sounds like a weasel-filled saxophone dominates ‘River Song’, another tail of angst aged Londoners with musicality that wouldn’t be out of place on a Kate Bush record.
A more conventional brass sound ushers in ‘Slow Sun’, a tender tale of an adoring squeeze waiting up with a cup of tea and “real love”; lyrics that might bring to mind the naive simplicity of ‘Toothpaste Kisses’, if there wasn’t such a dark undertone to it all.
After 35-odd minutes of an album that so often flirts with balladry before pressing hard on the ‘oh, fuck it’ guitar pedal, the last couple of songs bring about something more tranquil.
Female vocals and sweeping strings chime in the all too brief ‘Pioneering Systems’ before closer ‘Dawn Chorus’ welcomes in a new day with a gorgeous melody and a tale of salvation and reluctance in “breaking up to make it better”.
And with that, The Maccabees’ dark night is over. Warts and all, this particular place is not nearly as foreboding in true sunlight.
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Words by Gary Shepherd