Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Paul Smith – Margins (Billingham Records)

It would be impossible to review Paul Smith's solo effort without mentioning Maximo Park. For some frontmen desperate to explore the unknown terrain of complete artistic control, the commercial success of the band they leave behind can often deter potential listeners – listeners who might enjoy the much subtler merits of the resulting album. However, though I acknowledge that my preconceptions cannot be entirely shelved, I suspect that, had I never encountered Smith's chart-bothering band, I would still find Margins to be an album that contains more misses than hits.

Not that Smith's CV would have really put me off. Though the schizophrenic vocal affectation of earlier tracks like Apply Some Pressure made me physically recoil, I grudgingly found sophomore release Our Earthly Pleasures to contain more than a couple of likeable tracks. Unfortunately, those, like me, with a penchant for Maximo Park's sing-along numbers will find sparse evidence on Margins of Smith's knack for anthemic choruses. They do crop up from time to time, put in, I assume, to appease the likes of me: tracks like Dare Not Dive and Our Lady Of Lourdes contain a less obvious yet unmistakeable trace of that pop sensibility, while album opener North Atlantic Drift gives Maximo fans false hope of an album filled with fist-clenching refrains.

Elsewhere, the lyrics are disarmingly intimate; the accompaniment pared down and largely acoustic. This in itself isn't a problem, in fact, it's quite refreshing, not least I imagine for Smith himself who heretofore has spent a lot of time inciting teenage mosh-pits. It works for the most part on tracks like When You're In The Bath, I Drew You Sleeping and Pinball. Smith successfully reveals his sensitive and intelligent side, but even here his honest day-to-day observations and admissions (“resisting the temptation to look through the crack in the bathroom door”), and his wavering baritone that occasionally veers into spoken word, made me cringe a little bit. There's also an annoying preoccupation with echo effects and a tendency to interrupt the progression with an obtuse, incongruous bridge – which spoils otherwise enjoyable tracks like Strange Fiction and The Crush And The Shatter and makes songs like This Heat and Alone I Would Have Dropped downright unbearable.

Fans of Smith may find the honesty of Margins endearing. However, for me, while the album contains a lot of potential, I think Smith benefits from the influence of coequal band-members to keep his more misguided ideas in check.

Words : Tegan Rogers

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