After 2009's somewhat disappointing Quicken the Heart, Maxïmo Park took a break, during which singer/songwriter Paul Smith released his more expansive solo album Margins. On The National Health, Smith and the rest of the band seem revitalized by the time off, delivering some of their catchiest and widest-ranging songs since their debut, A Certain Trigger. Interestingly, though, Maxïmo Park aren't trying to resuscitate the bouncy post-punk of their early days -- instead, they try out more sounds and ideas than ever, and most of them stick. The album's title track is inspired by the economic malaise the U.K. (and indeed, much of the world) experienced in the 2010s, and it reveals that the band's rock is invigorated by outrage; the surging guitars and Smith's earnest yelp edge close to emo, although Maxïmo Park might not necessarily see that description as negative, since they were always the most earnest and heartfelt of their contemporaries. Elsewhere, the band incorporates more electronic elements into its sound -- a somewhat ironic development, given that The National Health is the first album the group has released that's not on Warp Records -- and the results are often thrilling, particularly on the Pulp-esque "Until the Earth Would Open" and "Write This Down." Smith also tries on different vocal stylings for size, adopting a lower, more nuanced delivery on "Hips and Lips" that suggests he and the rest of the band can shed any lingering remains of their post-punk revival roots if they want to. However, they certainly don't need to, as long as the songs are as good as they are here: "The Undercurrents," "Reluctant Love," and "Take Me Home" are all fine examples of the sadder-but-wiser love songs Maxïmo Park have excelled at since the beginning. While a few songs aren't total successes -- "This Is What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" feels a little too slick for its own good -- on The National Health, the band's own health seems more sanguine than it has in some time.
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