Contradictions has been 4 years in the making by Paul Smith. Because of commitments with Maximo Park and a collaboration with Field Music’s Peter Brewis, the album was written over a huge stretch of time, in various different locations and with various different people, which probably leads to its somewhat disjointed nature.
Despite a strong start to the album with the tracks The Deep End and Break Me Down, Contradictions quickly falls flat. Reintroducing The Red Kite is a solid track before the album is filled out with a series of forgettable numbers, including the disappointingly short The Golden Glint. The album title mirrors some of the songs on the album, many of them having a prominent juxtaposition between happy, up-beat music and some rather melancholy lyrics. This is a technique which could be quite effective and has worked well in the past (for a recent, famous example, see ‘Hey Ya’ by Outkast), however on this album, whether it’s to do with the particularly dour subject matter, or Smith’s voice, it leads to a rather confusing tone.
The previously mentioned ‘The Deep End’ is the highlight of the album, and it’s a shame it’s the first track. It’s a good example of how this album could have sounded; eclectic, mysterious, up-beat yet melancholy. In the instrumentation; the punchy drum tone is contrasted nicely with two soft guitar parts, one of which taking its cues from Smith’s melody. The chorus is reminiscent of Bloc Party, Silent Alarm era, with its oscillating guitar part and Smith’s mournful tone sliding its way through the melody.
Unfortunately Contradictions does not start as it means to go on. The careful balance between melancholy and happiness that was evident in the first two tracks quickly fades. While this idea of the juxtaposition is quite a good one, it quickly becomes tiresome, and a chore to listen to. Until ‘The Golden Glint’, the album follows pretty much the same formula with a slightly different guitar and drum part to each; they even have roughly the same tempo. ‘The Golden Glint’ could have broken up the album quite nicely, showcasing Smith’s sorrowful vocal over just a simple acoustic guitar chord progression. However, at 45 seconds long, I’m not really even sure what it’s doing in the album, it would have been nice to hear it as a full track.
Fill In The Blanks offers some respite, but straight after the album reverts to its formulaic ways. ‘Coney Island’ goes some way to recapturing the interest created in the first tracks. The song is inspired by the place of the same name, described by Smith himself as ‘the other side of the American Dream.’ ‘Coney Island’ is a tad slower, and as such even a little funkier than the rest of the album, and adds some structural intrigue, as it does away with his traditional verse-chorus form.
There are some good points to this album, certainly. ‘The Deep End’, ‘Break Me Down’ and ‘Coney Island’ are worth a listen, but don’t expect to be dazzled by the rest of it. Inidivdually the tracks stand up alright, nothing special that would make you want to listen again and again, but solid tracks nonetheless. However, in the context of the album, there really is very little diversity or intrigue, and it soon becomes tiresome listening.
Contradictions is out now on Bellingham Records.