In London, just south of the river, there’s a large, multi-lane roundabout complex called the Elephant and Castle. For drivers not used to big cities and unfamiliar with the area it’s a terrifying place. Cars come at you from every direction. And not just cars. Lorries, vans, motorcycles and buses roar and thunder round the bends like trumpeting elephants charging into battle.
Standing in the middle of the larger, northern roundabout there’s a building that looks like a cross between a small multi-storey car park and a large modern sculpture. In fact it is the electricity sub-station for the Northern and Bakerloo lines of the London Underground. It is also a memorial to Michael Faraday, the physicist and chemist, who was born nearby. The Maccabees‘ studio is close by, too, and the Faraday memorial features on the cover of their latest album, Marks To Prove It.
The title track from the album is a thumping indie rock song. Guitars, bass and drums pound along as the singer tells of a population searching for fulfilment, struggling to cope with change, bouncing from pillar to post like a ball in a pinball machine and gathering dark psychological bruises along the way. Invisible marks that prove they are playing their part in the hurly burly of the rat race.
Suddenly there’s a change of rhythm. The pounding footsteps falter, the pace slows and the music stumbles forward uncertainly for a while. It is a chance to catch our breath. But it is only a brief respite for soon the pinball flipper launches us up into the maelstrom of modern life once more, and we are running headlong towards an unknown destination, our feet pounding the pavements again.
We tell ourselves that the bumps and bruises are worth it and we charge bravely on into life’s battles, a defiant war cry on our lips. Then those invisible marks become too much for us again, we stumble into a puddle and, this time, we fall. Down under the water we go. Down, down, down into another world. A watery world, but very much like the concrete jungle now above our heads. Here there are houses, streets, offices. There are roads and taxis and people having arguments.
We can not stay here. We can not survive here. We must swim. Swim up towards the light of the sky. We beat our arms and with that first stroke we rise a little. Kicking our legs we paddle upwards again. The last of our breath rises up before us in bubbles. A few more strokes and we reach the surface, where we peep out into the Elephant and Castle walkways. We are safe from drowning but we have come full circle. Our armoured elephant has taken us once round the roundabout where Londoners feet still tramp relentlessly on.
Marks To Prove It is a thumping indie rock song but it would be wrong to judge the Maccabees on this track alone. The other tracks on the album are generally quieter, slower, more nuanced and more ‘alternative’. They feature instruments other than guitars: piano, synthesisers, horns; they vary in pace, feel and texture. The Maccabees are relatively new to me but I’m impressed. As a fellow south-of-the-river Londoner I may be biased, so watch the video, check out their albums and see if you agree that the band is well worth listening to.