Maxïmo Park sounded so wound up and wiry on their debut, A Certain Trigger, it felt like the band might snap if they went any further in that direction on their next album. For Our Earthly Pleasures, the band recruited producer Gil Norton to fill out their sound; while Norton has done great things with bands like the Pixies and Foo Fighters, his heavily layered production ends up weighing down the band's formerly nimble rock. To be fair, Norton's approach does work on a few of Our Earthly Pleasures' more aggressive songs. "Girls Who Play Guitars" gets the album off to a great start, with synths buzzing with anticipation, taut basslines, and jagged riffs. The single "Our Velocity" follows suit, spilling over with burbling keyboards and an urgency that helps make up for the fact that it's far more conventional-sounding than anything Maxïmo Park has done before. Elsewhere, the album's bigger sound doesn't equal big impact, particularly on "By the Monument" and "The Unshockable," which miss the mark despite the band's impassioned delivery. And, while "A Fortnight's Time" doesn't quite work either, its witty lyrics ("When it comes to girls I'm mostly hypothetical/If I list their names it's purely alphabetical") almost save it. The same goes for "Books from Boxes," a breakup vignette that sounds like a more defeated follow-up to A Certain Trigger's "Postcard of a Painting" and, unfortunately, shows the difference between great lyrics and great songwriting. Our Earthly Pleasures' softer, more romantic songs are the best showcases for the album's lush sound and Paul Smith's appealing vocals and lyrics: "Nosebleed" and "Sandblasted and Set Free" are mature and polished takes on unrequited love and moving on from a breakup, with rippling keyboards that make them sound downright pretty. "Your Urge" goes from delicate guitar and piano counterpoint to full-on rock fury and back again, displaying a mastery Maxïmo Park didn't have on their debut; likewise, "Parisian Skies," a striking balance of ebb and flow, idealism and heartbreak, closes the album with one of the band's finest songs yet. There are strong lyrics and memorable melodies throughout Our Earthly Pleasures, but, frustratingly, they don't come together as consistently as they did on A Certain Trigger. Despite the album's unevenness, the best songs show how Maxïmo Park's music can evolve into something as quirky and unique as their debut and as pop-minded as the approach they try here.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares