Despite anticipation of a crossover proper with the release of their mainstream-stroking single ‘Toothpaste Kisses’, the sweetest moment of their debut album ‘Colour It In’, Brighton’s The Maccabees never quite reached escape velocity to leave the indie ghetto they’ve ruled so well and become A Genuine Big Deal in the wider world of Tesco CD sales and getting your music news from The Sun.
No bother: rather than up the cheeriness of their breezy early cuts, the five-piece have set about traversing the opposite path to recognition, by delivering a distinctly darker second long-player. This shift in tone was showcased early on by the free download single ‘No Kind Words’; said song sits dead in the middle of this collection like the itch that you just can’t scratch, oddly pleasurable for all its irritation. On it, frontman Orlando Weeks implores: “If you’ve got no kind words to say, then you should say nothing more at all.” It’s less an ask, more a command; critics looking to find fault in this record, outside of any personal taste discrepancies, might as well bite their tongues now.
The song’s frantic pace and relative atmosphere of instrumental oppressiveness is mirrored by similarly teeth-bared and fists-clenched tracks ‘One Hand Holding’ and ‘William Powers’; although both do at least allow the slimmest chinks of light to breach the storm clouds collecting above the band’s heads. But if ‘Wall Of Arms’ were all nastiness, we’d be talking about a band other than The Maccabees – the quintet are incapable of not calling upon matters of the heart for inspiration for much of their material, and the results are – like their first album – universally excellent.
‘Seventeen Hands’ and lead single proper ‘Love You Better’ (its video was exclusively revealed by Clash HERE) find Weeks channelling emotions from depths previously unexplored, with his performance resonating a perfect sincerity that might be born of practise, but more likely a developed confidence in expressing himself with the sort of commitment that separates chart-friendly guitar fluff from thinking-man indie material. ‘Wall Of Arms’ reassures the listener throughout that this is no Razorlight they’re listening to; like The Cribs and The Futureheads, The Maccabees have grown into a perfectly pop-savvy band with greatly accomplished songs in their catalogue, but also one that sings it like they really mean it.
The album ends with the gently swaying ‘Bag Of Bones’, which trumps ‘Toothpaste Kisses’ as the prettiest song The Maccabees have ever crafted, albeit in a slightly different manner – while the first-album cut is almost unforgivably saccharine, ‘Wall Of Arms’’ closer is a layered, slow-motion soundscape that flies close to the work of Panda Bear and Atlas Sound. “Bag of bones… and so much more besides,” coos Weeks, and again one can assume allusions entirely unconnected with the song’s genesis…
Seen by many a critic as a fairly lightweight band first album around, if only because they couldn’t make time to listen to ‘Colour It In’ as closely as was necessary, with ‘Wall Of Arms’ The Maccabees have made sure that no listener is going to leave the experience not feeling touched in some way – by the tonal dexterity, the lyrical openness, or something that’s not so obvious until the third or fourth listen. It’s a record that requires the stating of an opinion, and this one reads: much recommended, especially for those who short-changed its makers last time. You really should give them another go.
And if it doesn’t tickle the fancy of Joe Bloggs and his £50 a month spend, never mind - at least we'll know that there's something special here to celebrate.