Following Brandon Flowers and Kele Okereke's solo efforts, Maximo Park frontman Paul Smith is the latest indie pop vocalist to take some time away from his day job and go it alone with his debut album, Margins. While the post-punk beats and angular guitar riffs of opener "North Atlantic Drift" suggest the famous bowler hat-wearer may be on something of a busman's holiday, its subsequent 12 tracks reveal why Smith felt they didn't fit the mold of his band's previous record, Quicken the Heart. Recorded with the help of Field Music's Dave and Pete Brewis, the first release through his own Billingham Records label still contains his unmistakable Geordie accented tones, idiosyncratic stream of consciousness, and clever lyrical wordplay, but written during the midst of a relationship breakdown, it's a much more personal affair which abandons his usual new wave tendencies in favor of a stripped-back, lo-fi, and reverb-laden sound which recalls the likes of the Doors on the echoing, spoken word psychedelic of "Alone, I Would Have Dropped," Nick Cave on the wistful gothic folk of "Improvement/Denouement," and Scott Walker on the eerie, harmonies and avant-garde acoustics of "This Heat." While its sparse and spacious production feels perfectly suited to the achingly honest themes of betrayal, paranoia, and heartbreak which surround the likes of the delicate fingerplucking ballad "While You're in the Bath," the ghostly atmospherics of "I Wonder If," and the melancholic, mandolin-led closer "Pinball," it makes for an undeniably unsettling and intrusive listen which sounds as if it's been recorded more as a cathartic release than for mass public consumption. Indeed, half the tracks sound like unfinished noodlings rather than fully formed songs, and it's only on the jangly Sundays-esque guitar pop of "I Drew You Sleeping" and the driving muddy rock of "Dare Not Dive" where he allows a few memorable hooks to creep in among the rather creepy lyrics. Margins feels more like something that Smith needed to get out of his system rather than a concerted effort to launch a solo career, and while he's wisely used his short-lived freedom to differentiate himself from Maximo Park, it's ironically unlikely to appeal to anyone but their hardcore fan base.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien