New Album Reviews

Paul Smith releases 4th solo album Diagrams

Paul smith diagrams album review
Photo: Ivan Jones

Maximo Park’s Paul Smith returns with his fourth solo release Diagrams on Friday October 26th. As with each of his previous lone outings, Diagrams clearly marks a further point of progression in Smith’s approach to his craft. While still very much a part of Maximo Park, what always stood the band apart from other mid-noughties also-rans, was Smith’s unabashment at being a well-read songwriter. As an album, Diagrams is heavy not only with the literary references and sharp edged observation he’s synonymous with. But Smith has made a conscious effort on this record to push at the boundaries of his songwriting. Expanding his imaginary vision to form a vibrant and intricate album. One that tethers the obscure to the mundane and unearths romance in the increasingly dark corners of Britain’s social fabric.


Co-produced with Andrew Hodson of Warm Digits. Diagrams has sound that’s thick with the influence of seminal, indie jangle popsters The Go-Betweens. Together with the mid-90’s shoe gaze grunge of The Lemonheads. A jaunty horn section on opening track Public Eye is an incongruous compliment to this classic sound. Examining the sneering, self-righteousness of the hostile environment and its tabloid news pushers. The disinformation era and the Brexit-Trump nexus is also a subject on Single Around and Around. Casting a disenchanted eye to the perpetual cycle of political spin in this breezy, almost folk sounding tune. Smith comments,

“I wanted to create a seemingly breezy pop song that contains buried feelings of discomfort and unease. I began by using certain autobiographical details, but then I tried to make it more of a cryptic short story with Brexit Britain as the backdrop.”

First single of the album Silver Rabbit sees the field open up. As punchy, overdriven guitars gallop through this story of self-doubt, set against the romantic, low budget backdrop of the British seaside. Diagrams then pivots to the grander scale of romance for Lake Burley Griffin. Inspired by the story of Walter Burley Griffin, who designed Canberra alongside his wife Marion Mahony Griffin. “I will build a capital for you, just to prove my devotion” Smith sings on this down-tempo track, that once again marries a garage tone with the sound of woodwind.

The blending of sounds continues on Syrian Plains. Which seems to perfectly infuse North East folk, West Coast grunge and Psychedelia into a feedback drenched climax. Elsewhere, on John Smith imagines a life unknown. Inspired by a name scrawled on the back of a toilet door, he infers the emotion and follows it into a realm where the story evolves from schooldays to falling in love.


Returning to a more autobiographical form of songwriting for The Beauty Contest. Smith narrates a late night train journey and sees him accompanied on vocals by Marry Waterson. Hollywood Hills, could however be either be a personal tale of morning after regret, or a metaphoric tale about Great Britain’s ‘special‘ relationship with the US.

unnamed-20The wonderfully written Head For Figures rings with a classic 60’s pop melody that lies somewhere between The Kinks and Scott Walker. Another track that finishes with psych soaked climax. Inspired by the post-apocalyptic worlds of JG Ballard and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Critical Mass’ dark, dystopian view burns bright with vocal harmonies. Diagrams then plays to an end with Your Orbit. Its dark, off-kilter melodies and reverberating guitars waltzing you out of this record.

An excellent showcase for his strengths as a songwriter, Diagrams forges Paul Smith’s disparate influences to one coherent collection of songs. A richly textured record of noir romance, razor edged reflection and humor as dark as a Durham mine. Smith will mark the release of Diagrams with a hometown launch show at Stockton’s waiting Room, before Diagrams will be toured in the UK with full band. Support for which will come from One Little Indian’s former Mercury Prize nominee Kathryn Williams.

Diagrams is released October 26th on Billingham Records and can be Pre-ordered here.

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