The maccabees - marks to prove it
It takes a good decade for one to be able to fit the words ‘ropeadoper’ and ‘spinnaker’ into the lyrics of a studio album without questions asked. But I suppose, if you do anything for ten years, you end up pretty good at it. That’s an understatement for what has become, or has the potential to become, the career-defining masterpiece that is Marks to Prove It.
Marks to Prove It, which took two and half years to complete, is the 41-minute ode to life inspired by South London’s grimacing Elephant & Castle. Recorded in a two room studio, the album is an amalgamation of the Maccabees’ previous slush puppy indie pop sound – found resolutely in Colour It In and then the stronger Wall of Arms – and the sailing, mystifying and altogether more layered sound of Given to the Wild. The product of such a combination has left us with a suite painted seriously with concerns of texture, pace and maturity; an album that takes us out at twilight, throws us into the depths of the night with all its endeavours and its heartbreaks, and then hails us the night-bus all the way back until dawn and its insight.
The title track, Marks to Prove It, sets the listener up for a teethgrittingly fast ride; there is something racing about it, a feeling of spiralling downwards as the band flies by the seat of their pants. Jagged guitars and staccato piano keys bounce around, while the sound clutches at the seams of the record as it cascades forward into the body of the album; it’s like being pushed into a pool headfirst. But the album resembles nothing of its predecessors, and this song is nothing like its forbearers. Influenced by the beginnings of gentrification of the transport system at Elephant & Castle – the roundabout of which is adorned on the album cover – the album addresses the more matured outlooks upon themes such as love and its loss, the quiet inevitability of the passing of age and time; it monopolizes the grasping but not quite reaching of something to hold onto whilst everything changes, and this era silently moves into the next.
Remaining where so many others have disappeared, Marks to Prove It is mature in both its sound and its lyricism. The Maccabees are wandering into unknown territory with touches of jazz and blues from a brass addition, quasi-militant waltzes and discordant layering, as well as the addition of quieter piano-centred tracks like in Pioneering Systems. There too are switched up vocals, with Hugo singing ‘Silence’ and lyrics recorded in one take on Dawn Chorus. There is something distinctly raw, dark and slightly violent on the edges of even the most beautiful moments in the work; a deft and swift sadness shakes all the songs.
In a way, looking at the back catalogue of albums from the Maccabees is reminiscent of reading old private diaries; observing as the personal outlooks upon life progress all the way from boyhood through adolescence to manhood. Marks to Prove It is the musings of men in their late twenties, not the 18-year-olds we first met on ‘Latchmere’. It is a testament to the war wounds and love wounds inflicted over the years; the insight that experience gives; the heartbreak of time. In it, romanticising has been firmly moved aside, gentrification has been reacted to by resolute solidarity of men against change, love is stripped back into simplicity – ‘cup of tea for you / she’s there on the sofa / that’s real love’ – and predictable typicality: ‘throw your drink at him / and go back to him just the same.’ As Chris Shipman writes, ‘…the time for Toothpaste Kisses and First Loves is well and truly over, consigned firmly to the past….’ And for the most part, he is right.
The Maccabees have proven themselves as unique, multi-talented and highly skilled musicians and matured creatives. The album is honest, humble, and quietly astounding. It is career-defining; real artistry. We live in hope for higher heights. We want more.