The Maccabees have said that their new album represents what the band really sounded like all along. Apparently, if the forthcoming Given to the Wild is to be believed, what they sounded like was Coldplay.
The resemblance to Chris Martin and Co. on this April 24, 2012 U.S. release is nearly uncanny on “Feel to Follow,” a complex and then melancholic tune that bursts out with almost impossibly beatific vocal treatment, a stamping beat and these skittering guitar chords. But just when you think the track can’t accelerate any further into a skittering moment of frenzy, it dive bombs into a shattering stillness — only to go soaring back up into the stratosphere.
Of course, for the talented but not yet fully matured Maccabees, this sort of tribute/mimicry isn’t exactly new. The London-based group sounded something like the Britpop of Blur on its 2007 debut Colour It In. They haven’t completely abandoned that on Given to the Wild either; check out “Pelican,” a tough little power-pop yelp made complete with a perfectly fitting moment of existential wit to boot: “We’re all getting older,” Orlando Weeks wearily sings, and it sounds like what it is — a death sentence.
Fast forward to 2009, when we find them working with producer Markus Dravs of Arcade Fire fame, and the Maccabees (presto!) began to take on some of that band’s most obvious characteristics, as well. You hear that again on the new album with “Forever I’ve Known,” a painful pleading for a simpler time that finds Weeks finally admitting: “I know nothing stays forever.”
I must say, I’m more than a little surprised that co-producer Tim Goldsworthy (formerly of DFA) didn’t influence these seemingly easily swayable types with his own penchant for punky electronica. Instead, this grown up-sounding, but yet somehow not very adventurous album is more often a kind Cliff’s Notes version of Viva la Vida. “Child” and “Glimmer” follow similarly convoluted, and at the same time overly familiar, paths.
Taken together, this new textural evolution is not unwelcome, creating as it does an atmosphere that’s memorably cinematic and — momentarily, at least — emotionally involving. But before long, a certain ordinariness creeps into the proceedings. There’s nothing really new, anymore, about music that leaps off a cliff made of muscular arena-rock riffs right into a dream-like nocturnal ether. We’ve been there, heard that.
That makes those times when, it seems, the Maccabees actually are sounding like themselves — and nobody else — all the more notable: They play it straight with sweeping success on “Ayla,” a muted, horn-laced meditation, while “We Grew Up At Midnight” ends things on touchingly elegiac note.
Given to the Wild is, to my ears, the sound of a good band still searching for its own greatness.