Album Review: The Maccabees – Marks to Prove It

In 2010, a British magazine had declared The Maccabees ‘Landfill Indie’, a tagline you definitely want to leave out of your musical résumé. But five years later and two albums deeper, have the band soared triumphantly out of the landfill? Or did they find themselves a quiet resting place in the graveyard that has formed of their indie-guitar band predecessors.

In the heart of Central London, surrounded by the chaotic redevelopments of a changing city, sits a major road junction known historically as the Elephant and Castle. Famous not only for being the birthplace of Charlie Chaplin and Michael Caine, but also for being the address line of The Maccabees studio, which is where they decided to write their 4th album. Now I know you’re probably thinking ‘Okay mate, thanks for that useless bit of knowledge on the Elephant and Castle’. But if you take a closer look, the band uses the album to pay tribute to the area. From there, you will start to understand the background and context of how it all came together.

It’s fairly obvious that the road leading up to the completion of this album was not all fun and games, with the title track literally and expressively called ‘Marks to Prove it’. Returning home from their ‘Given to the Wild’ tour, the band took two and a half years to make their last album. Lead vocalist Orlando Weeks admitting that after six months they still weren’t sure what they wanted the album to sound like.

You can almost feel the angst and frustration of the quintet in the first song ‘Marks to Prove it’, along with the fast-paced commotion of the area that surrounds the recording studio. But maybe the angst comes from a deeper place? Weeks sings: ‘Over the summer, a lot changed/ and they all changed to keep up with it’. Maybe it comes from a fear of losing the familiarity of a hometown, with the Elephant and Castle currently under huge redevelopment plans to be completed in 2020. Whatever the reason, The Maccabees have quickly set the energy and tone for the album.

The second song is contrastingly pleasing to the ears, sounding very similar to The Smiths. ‘Kamakura’ pumps the brakes following the first track, which is more like an organised chaos, and showcases their talent as storytellers. Although the quintet may have changed their style a few times over the years, one thing that hasn’t changed is the passion and emotion they bring to their music: ‘He’s given a bloody nose to the best friend he knows/ The only time he’s cried since he was seven years old/ Your best friends forgive you/ Your best friends forget you get old’. Watch out for that booming chorus in ‘Kamakura’, it’ll sneak up on you like this year has done to all of us.

I wasn’t too sure what to expect from the next few songs, I was excited, it had me hooked and I was dying to see where things were heading. Like finishing work on a Friday and heading into the local township with your three best friends for a big night on the pale ales, this album started off with loads of fun and energy. All of a sudden you are stuck in the hangover part of the album, which is from track 3 to track 7. Songs like ‘Ribbon Road’ and ‘Spit it out’ send the good vibes spiralling down, cutting all the energy out of the first two openers. I don’t mean that in a harsh/negative way either. Specifically chosen lyrics are paired off with some powerfully gloomy chord progressions, making you feel like you have literally woken up after big night with a handful of regrets, stupid decisions and lost opportunities.

The MVP of this album is easily track #8 ‘Something like Happiness’. The thing I love about the Maccabees (especially after their previous album) is that they are extremely talented in expanding their sounds. With five people in the band, it almost makes you feel like a small crew of around 10 – 12 musicians have surrounded you with their greatness. Must be how Alexander Ebert feels every time he is on stage with his army of Magnetic Zeros.
‘Something Like Happiness’ is a call to action to any and all failed relationships: “If you love them/ Go and tell them/ If it’s over/ Let it be over”. Everyone has a fair share in making this song beautiful, the vocals push through the main hook as the drums tie the different sections together with the piano/guitar/trumpet parts layered perfectly. This song would be an absolute treat to see live.

I’ve always been a huge fan of happy endings – and by happy endings I’m referring to those found at the end of movies, not massages. Well… I guess both are pretty cool. For a band that is constantly trying to stay relevant in their genre and battling the ever-changing music realm, I take my hat off too them. To me, The Maccabees are huge contenders for the ‘Yeah we are super successful, but it didn’t come easy’ award for 2015.  The Maccabees are definitely starting to hone in on a sound and define themselves as artists and I am super excited to see the direction that they take in the near future!

Rating: 6.9/10

Artist: The Maccabees
Album Title: Marks to Prove it
Label: Fiction Records, Fierce Panda Records
Moments of Standout: Marks To Prove it, Kamakura, Something Like Happiness
Genre: Indie Rock

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