Lacking the immediacy of his work with Maximo Park, or indeed previous solo outings, 'Diagrams' is Paul Smith’s fourth record as a solo artist, and is arguably his most distinct. Where 2015’s 'Contradictions' harboured an instantaneous buoyancy that went hand in hand with Smith’s personal and relatable lyricism, 'Diagrams' is less direct, somewhat more fictional and at times, more despondent.
It’s also however, as equally relatable and idiosyncratically romantic. While they might not be two words often seen together, Smith’s ability to find romance in the everyday is what sets him apart as a lyricist, and while 'Diagrams' may not be the most instantaneous of records, its appeal is insidious, seeping under your skin over repeat listens, before taking root and blossoming in to the delicate album of understated bedroom pop that it is.
It’s a shame then, that it takes more than a little persistence for 'Diagrams' to really start to open up and reward its listeners, and even then, it’s the latter half of the record in which the arrangements flourish, and Smith’s lyricism seems strongest. Even now, it’s impossible to hear the out of nowhere brass section towards the end of the opening ‘The Public Eye’ without feeling a little baffled.
That said ‘Silver Rabbit’ is something of an early gem, feeling more like an early Maximo Park demo than something from Smith’s solo output but it’s ‘John’ that seems to be the turning point for the record, and where Smith seems at arguably his most confident; opting to eschew his usually autobiographical lyricism in favour of weaving a fictional and attributing it to a name scratched on the door a bathroom.
It’s this stylistic shift in his writing that makes 'Diagrams' a much more interesting record than just background listening would have one believe. And though its DIY production takes some getting used to, it’s an interesting insight into where Smith is as a songwriter today.
Words: Dave Beech
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