For the most part, The Maccabees have been tantalisingly close to a good record over their last few albums, but something has held them back. They never seemed to commit, torn between indie rock and indie pop and becoming more of a jack of all trades instead of a master of one set genre. This works for some bands, who scurry between genres seemingly every five minutes, but the Maccabees never changed enough to become genre-straddlers, and never stayed the same enough to become a rigid formula. Marks To Prove It refuses to change from that path, despite some strong singles in the wake of their announcement. You might have been fooled, considering their punky comments on the gentrification of their scene, which were quickly shot down as the cries of rich kids who could afford to work in an expensive environment. So far, so similar, then.
The problem with the Maccabees is how easily they can go from a stomper like the opening track (also the title track) to a dull song like ‘Kamakura’. ‘Marks To Prove It’, as default best song on this album, has an insistent guitar line with freakishly psycho vocals. The change in timing turns it into a carnival-esque song, but the way it keeps changing timing is what makes the song good. Plus, Orlando Weeks delivers one of the better vocal performances on the album. He’s never been amazing, but other than ‘Marks To Prove It’, his vocals simply drift by without making an impact at all. The lyrical concept is interesting too, where Weeks sings ‘No one cares ’til they’ve got the marks to prove it’ and ‘over the summer, a lot changed’ alluding to growing up and about no-one caring until you have proof. ‘Kamakura’ on the other hand, aims for the heights of Foals’ build-ups and emotional crescendos, but feels bland and the pay-off feels anti-climactic. The instrumentation all too often just passes by, even the ‘explosion’ in the chorus quickly fades away and Weeks doesn’t have the capability to go beyond a dull moan.
The same sort of slow, emotional builders pop up time and time again, refusing to halt except for the ‘atmospheric’ interlude-at-bests like ‘Silence’ and ‘Slow Sun’. ‘River Song’, ‘Spit It Out’ and ‘WWI Portraits’ all deploy the same tactics, without any payoff at all. Returning to the comparisons to Foals, where ‘Spanish Sahara’, ‘Providence’ or even new track ‘What Went Down’ succeed is their attention to detail in building up the minute twitches of instruments with the extension of Yannis Philippakis’ voice to create atmospheric tearjerkers. However, here, the production does nothing to create an explosion of noise. The other tracks, such as ‘Pioneering Systems’, are nostalgic reverb-heavy tracks doused in female backing vocals which work a lot better than Weeks’ a lot of the time.
‘Spit It Out’, while following the same patterns, is one of the stronger tracks. The piano-led track begins differently, with Weeks’ opting for soft, ethereal vocals until for once (just once), the instrumentation does – yes – Explode. Weeks gets a chance to really get out of his comfort zone, pleading ‘What do we do now?”. At times, it sounds like an early Radiohead track, like a B-side from OK Computer, especially in the guitar. ‘Spit It Out’ brings a whiff of life to a unfortunately dead album.
Backed by some strong singles, there was no reason for Marks To Prove It not to succeed. Since their last album Given To The Wild they had shown their dedication to ascending to the top ranks of indie rock with crossover hits like ‘Pelican’. Marks To Prove It was a surefire stepping stone to conventional rock formula and a healthy audience, but instead it’s a dry well of inspiration that falls back on slow-builders too often for them to make an impact. The Maccabees should explore the punkier territory they happened upon with the title track, where the guitars hit the hardest and a creepy carnival synth whirrs on. They fell back into old habits, which are becoming stale at this point in their career. Orlando Weeks has never been the strongest lyricist, but here the cracks are beginning to show after four albums of the same voice. At this point they need to make a serious change with their sound, or they might just sink into the murky realms of forgettable 00s bands.