The Maccabees announce breakup after 14 years
By Paul Slater
After 14 years, 4 albums and 54 songs, today The Maccabees packed it in and went their separate ways, barring a few farewell shows later in the year. Alongside the Arctic Monkeys, they emerged as champions of the mid-noughties indie renaissance, firmly establishing themselves as a household name in the UK after bursting on to the scene with X-Ray in 2005. Relatively popular though their early music was, they were at first treated with some contempt by critics, describing them as too "artsy" to break into the mainstream and with names such as Orlando, Hugo, Felix and Rupert you can understand why. The Maccabees were as bright and clean cut as the coats they wore on the artwork of their second album Wall of Arms. The only reference to any drug you’ll find is in “Latchmere” and that’s only to the chlorine fumes from the wave machine the song is based on. Once rather rudely described by an online music blog as a “cross between Joy Division and Cliff Richard”, The Maccabees created their own unique space and sound. Whilst contemporaries such as Jamie T and Arctic Monkeys penned songs about the gritty side of British youth culture, necking cans of stella and waking up in someone’s front garden, The Maccabees were content writing whimsical romantic melodies like “Toothpaste Kisses”.
Within two years of their formation they would release their first studio album, Colour It In, which finished at 24th in the charts, putting the group at the forefront of British indie music. The Maccabees had already evoked something of a cult following and Colour It In would spread their name much further afield commercially, with tracks such as “Latchmere” and “About Your Dress” gaining particular acclaim thanks to appearances in the soundtrack to the Channel 4 series The Inbetweeners, whilst “Toothpaste Kisses" instantly became a hit following its use in a well-known Samsung commercial.
Next up would be Wall of Arms, which had running themes of the groups religious beliefs (or lack thereof), love, loss and pre-historic reptiles. Produced by Markus Dravs who had worked with Björk, Arcade Fire, Kings of Leon and Mumford & Sons previously, the album is fantastically well written. The main difference between the first two albums is essentially a very noticeable shift from the soft, yet still exquisitely crafted tracks of Colour It In to a much harder hitting and fast paced album in Wall of Arms. It's not a heavier or 'deeper' album, the band still holds on to its clean indie-pop sound, but there's more high tempo guitar riffs, more flavourful drum beats and a lot more lung-busting choruses. "Young Lions" is a near-perfect example of the differences between the two albums, with a soft noodling guitar and Orlando's trembling vocals setting what you'd expect to be a slow track. Then the song takes rapidly different turn, a fiery and inventive brass-band style sound is reminiscent of Arcade Fire’s Funeral, yet still instantly recognisable as a Maccabees track.
Given to the Wild takes the band down a completely different avenue. Gone are the toe-tapping, mercurial tracks of the first two albums and in their place come stadium rushing anthems that would be The Maccabees in their truest form, their absolute zenith. Given to the Wild was a coming of age, a magnificent display of musicianship and the album which made festival organisers sit up and take notice. Every single track on that album is flawless and unique. The listener is completely taken by surprise and captivated by the opening track “Child”, with its noodling guitar and fluid bass which is a direct showcase of the progression and maturity of the band across their first three albums. The differences are not only highlighted in the increased subtly, but also its lyrical content - a true boys-to-men moment in the history of the group. This band are not here to be the soundtrack to your television programme but to headline festivals and sell out huge arenas around the world. The sheer quality of the album runs right through from the first song to the last, leaving no emotion untouched. "Grew up at Midnight" finishes the album perfectly, a nostalgic take on a running theme of the album, childhood.
After Given to the Wild the group went dark for a while, seeking refuge in their Elephant & Castle studio, they immediately sought to write new material after their global tour. By their own admission they rushed in and tried to wring new music from themselves, momentarily forgetting their perfectionist nature. They were left with a collection of tracks that were not to their standard and decided to take a break from making music. They wouldn’t be seen or heard of for another four years, it was the mystery which shrouded the band in this period that promoted their legacy greater than any half-baked album could have. They returned in the summer of 2015 with what would be their final gift to their fans. Marks to Prove It would be a musical rollercoaster, a beautiful series of compositions that only really makes sense now that they’ve gone. It’s of course so obvious now that this was intentional, all the hints were there, like Bowie with "Lazarus", they were subtle enough to keep you guessing right until the very end. "Kamakura" is the shined up silver-coated equivalent to the first album’s "All in Your Rows". The comparison is absolutely mesmerising, the showcasing of a musical journey ongoing for more than 14 years. Silence slows down the album almost to a standstill, a perfect illustration of the bands ability to wreak havoc on your emotions whilst "Something Like Happiness" is an explicit reminder of their roots, a throwback to earlier identities, but still anchored in the present without sounding out of place.
And with that The Maccabees finished their perfect unison, informing fans through twitter that the end was nigh. It’s hard to relate to their decision, but easy enough to respect. This was a group that constantly sought progression and improvement. They reached perfection with their final two albums and chose not to soil that. An audience and following borne from their presentation as an identifiable face to British indie music, the vulnerability of the band and in particular that of lead singer Orlando suckered you in, but it was their artistic integrity and the growing confidence they had in their ability was what built a succinct identity and in doing so cemented their legacy at the top table. They will be missed, desperately so, but their four albums have undoubtedly left an indelible mark on British indie music.
* Header artwork by Harry Irons, is a nod to the band's second studio album Wall Of Arms as they "hang up their coats" so to speak.