Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Criminally Underrated Albums of the 2000's: #01

I've teased it out long enough and so today bring to you the album that I believe is the most underrated album of the past ten years. In doing so it also brings to a close the Keep Pop Loud marking of the passing of a decade. To anyone I've spoken to much on the matter this album may not come as much of a surprise as it's an album that I think has not only been criminally overlooked and underrated but is also one of very few albums that come to mind when I'm asked what my favourite album is.

Maxïmo Park – Our Earthly Pleasures

Our Earthly Pleasures, unlike most of the albums on this list was a big commercial success. It reached number 2 in the UK album chart (kept off the top spot only by Kings of Leon's third album) and on top of this it berthed four singles (three of which made the UK top forty and one the top ten), established the band as top in their class and ensured their long term survival. Despite this, and the fact that the album is beyond brilliant (think somewhere in the region of 12/10), it's fairly difficult to find that much actual love for it.

As usual NME were the worst culprits, saying of Our Earthly Pleasures “a big part of Maxïmo’s sense of mischief has also been stifled: entirely likable songs are slowed down to mid-pace and have had, you sense, had a lot of their more obtuse angles smoothed over”, which to these ears makes completely no sense. Rather, instead of travelling down the same path as peers Franz Ferdinand and taking a poppeir edge with a sohpmore album Maxïmo Park took a subtler and more edgy route, incorporating elements from various areas of credible art-pop to create a full, thrilling headphones album.

Where A Certain Trigger delighted in throwing the listener completely off balance with intellectual word play, jagged angular guitars and the completely unexpected 'Acrobat', OEP uses it's full range to ensure that it's the small changes that count: 'Our Velocity' is so tight it turns on a five pence piece going full throttle into the chorus; 'Russian Literature' pulls out a piano, marries it to Sonic Youth style guitars and plunges the whole song into a wormhole of frantic emotion; the string section in 'Sandblasted And Set Free' carries the songs but is easily put to the back of the mind from the strength of the vocal delivery; meanwhile 'The Unshockable' and 'Books From Boxes' stand out as being two of the greatest art-pop songs of all time, with the latter containing some of the LPs best lyrics: “Night falls and towns become circuit boards / We can beat the sun as long as we keep moving / We rarely see the warning signs in the air we breathe / Right now I feel each and every fragment”.

It's indicative of the British music press that a second album from a band is less well received. And yes, Our Earthly Pleasures may not be the sucker-punch of angular guitars and post-punk rhythms from the dark that it's predecessor was, but the craftsmanship evident, the song-smithery and musicianship means that anything, anywhere similar in vain, has a lot to live up to if it wants to be considered in my eyes close to Our Earthly Pleasures.

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