It's hard not to feel somewhat let down by The Maccabees' follow-up to 2009's Wall of Arms.
Sure, it's as immaculately crafted as you'd expect, with not a note out of place in its manicured arena-rock arrangements. It will undoubtedly fulfil whatever commercial aspirations are nursed by the band and its label. But that's not the point; or, rather, that's exactly the point, the root cause of why listening to Given to the Wild leaves me feeling so deflated. As the final, over-egged, epiphanic climax of "Grew Up At Midnight" subsides into silence, the thought "Is that it?" pops into one's head. Is that the limit of their ambitions? Shouldn't there be something more? Are they that afraid of taking chances?
It starts in reasonably assured manner, notwithstanding the self-consciously epic inferences of the title track, whose ambient keyboard pad and fragile, windswept invocation of the title serves as the intro to "Child". This is The Maccabees in typically clever mood, with the descending hookline balanced by a correspondingly rising horn figure, and a brief but telling guitar fill that recalls Television's "Marquee Moon". But it's there to be admired rather than enjoyed, and the faint echoes of Snow Patrol coalesce into full-blown Coldplay associations in the subsequent "Feel to Follow", which exposes the shortfall in potency of Orlando Weeks' plaintive delivery.
From there on, it seems like a succession of easy victories. The initial momentum of the rippling piano figure which opens "Ayla" dissipates into paltry pomp-rock textures; the twinkly guitar arpeggios of "Glimmer" suggest a lingering affection for shoe-gazing indie; and "Forever I've Known" doesn't seem so much a song as a series of guitar wisps waiting for the moment they can brim over into the climactic hook.
Elsewhere, the combination of juddering, cyclical guitar riffs and pounding drums in "Went Away" and "Unknown" is too behoven to U2, while the empty urgency of "Pelican" betrays the paucity of its concerns. Lyrically, where Weeks once assessed humanist themes in concise, intelligent lyrics, here he's reduced to bland truisms such as "One thing's for sure, we're all getting older" and "I know nothing stays forever". It's almost as if he's studied the Chris Martin songbook and decided that where he was going wrong was in trying to make his songs mean something too specific, having them make points, and decided to rein back. The result is that the lyrics slide down without touching the sides. There may be some conceptual theme about the passage of life, but it seems so bland it's barely worth considering. Even the music appears to be designed to distract one's attention from the vacuity, with its reliance on prog-rock bluster.
The unambitious nature of Given to the Wild is all the more disappointing for the intriguing glimmers of inspiration furnished by their collaboration with Roots Manuva on the "Empty Vessels" single re-working of the Wall of Arms track "No Kind Words": that, presumably, was largely down to Roots' input. Instead, The Maccabees appear to be pursuing that well-trodden course where ambitions shift over from the artistic to the commercial realm.
DOWNLOAD THIS: Child; Glimmer; Slowly One