From sly subtext, to out-and-out polemic, political activism and engagement has a long, rich history in popular music. And with the ongoing turmoil in Syria fuelling a refugee crisis, the Brexit referendum, and the ascendency of Trump – to name but a few – there are plenty of politically charged issues floating around waiting to be addressed by artists who are keen to weigh in on current events. This is what English indie-rockers, Maxïmo Park, have done with their sixth studio album, Risk to Exist.
Bringing one’s politics into the spotlight can be a troublesome proposition; if handled explicitly then, almost by definition, half the people listening will disagree with you, and if a more subtle approach is attempted then you risk appearing ham-fisted in the execution, or having your point missed entirely, if you don’t manage to pull it off. As evidenced by the album’s three singles, Maxïmo Park tend more towards the latter pratfall, with the titular Risk to Exist featuring clunky lyrics and vocal delivery, What Did We Do to You to Deserve This being unequivocally bland, and the anti-conformist Get High (No, I Don’t) failing to capitalise on a reasonably fun and energetic musicality.
With a riff that owes a lot to the Pixies’ Where Is My Mind, Work and Then Wait manages a passable upper- versus working-class theme, even if the refrain of “I won’t be put in my place” lacks power and conviction. The Hero – the album’s most successful track in balancing the explicit and subtle – utilises a pulsing keyboard line and dancey guitar riff, augmented with a brass section, to create the records standout track. Despite lush production values, Risk to Exist is too awkward to be a successful political album, and too lacklustre to be a triumph of indie-rock.