The album art inside ‘Given to the Wild’ shows a cairn, first surrounded by fire, then by scorched earth, and ultimately, by new growth. Whether it’s intended as a metaphor or not, the imagery is apt for the boys’ third album, which in itself seems to be a baptism of fire.
The Maccabees have been kicking around the mid-level indie circuit for years – accepted as nice boys with nice tunes, but never quite breaking through. Past singles had caused ripples, as well as winning the band a devoted following, but they’d never broken out of the indie discos. But on listening to this latest offering, you suspect that all that could be about to change.
I must admit, I wasn’t terribly excited for its release. I’d adored their first album, ‘Colour It In’, filled with gorgeously vulnerable lyrics and twitchy riffs. I’d rushed to see them at Bestival last year, but they fell a little flat (most ‘Wall of Arms’ songs struggled without a brass section, and, damningly, it was cold, grey and about 80% of the crowd were coming down from something they were wishing they’d bought more of). In short, I thought the Maccabees’ star had waned.
Yet there were whispers of good things. And now, ‘Given to the Wild’ has lived up to the hype. Gone are the itching, staccato guitars – replaced by spaced out, shimmering chords and string descants. Less post-punk than ever, the album is more evocative of Wild Beasts than Bloc Party; in fact, were it not for Orlando Weeks’ vocals, you might not realise it was the same band.
They ease us in, with the lazy, liquid ‘Child’ before cutting to the euphoric ‘Feel to Follow’. Initially only Orlando and a sparse drum beat, it builds into a whirling epic, with a nagging, looping riff and a space-rock sound. Here, they are more recognisably the Maccabees, but they’re still feeling very chilled out. Following on is piano ballad ‘Ayla’, ever-building soaring verses with a tripping piano underlay.
There is certainly a cinematic quality to the mid-album songs, which contextualise the album art and the ‘Wild’ of the title, invoking deserts and lunar landscapes. Though many of the songs segue into each other, keeping the meandering, dreamy feel, there are still some stand-out tracks. After the soothing violins and ambient shimmers of ‘Heave’, the kick-drums of ‘Pelican’ shake things up. Admittedly, the single is hardly representative of the rest of the album, being by far the sharpest and most conventionally indie track present, but it’s a fantastic stand-alone. Closer, ‘Grew Up At Midnight’, is hauntingly stripped back, with Orlando singing of nostalgia over more shivery guitars. It’s positively oxymoronic, and depending on your mood/the weather, you could sing along dancing around, waving your arms in the air or, just as feasibly, cry your eyes out.
It’s their most coherent album yet, and treads the fine line where it will be equally welcome on parental coffee tables as on teenagers’ iPods. They’re on course for their first number one album, and it’s certainly deserved. Forget it’s January, forget exams, and let those floating guitar lines carry you away.
The Maccabees will be playing at Rock City, Nottingham on March 8th.