REVIEW: The Maine – Pioneer

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Artist: The Maine
Album: Pioneer
Genre: Rock
Label: Action Theory/Warner Bros

The Maine have come far for a relatively young band, and on this evidence, it’s not difficult to see why. Pioneer combines a light-hearted, easygoing vocal with big, resounding choruses to create a widely accessible and highly enjoyable album. It doesn’t have any hidden depths or darkness, and succeeds in its capable and fresh take on traditional, straightforward rock.

The album’s not in a hurry, by any means, with many of its songs opting for laid-back tempos and equally leisurely vocals. This allows it to lay firm foundations and then build on the opening promise with sweeping, enthralling choruses. “Identify,” the album’s first song, is an excellent example of this. It opens with a pensive refrain and light guitar work that later evolve into something far more climactic and stirring. The sound is engaging and momentous, a decisive introduction to the album as opposed to anything too brash or bold. Further, it’s inherently feelgood, encouraging a positive response. “My Heroine” has a little more attitude, fine-tuning its guitars into something sharper and exhilarating. It allies these with a more harmony-driven chorus to ensure the song has an emotive, more profound centre. The Maine excel in their creation of a simple guitar rock sound and solid vocals. It lacks a really forceful immediate impact, but its uplifting air and thorough execution leaves a more long-term impression.

“Time” and “Some Days” complement each other well, with the latter providing a more melodic afterthought to the former’s cold, hard thrills. The guitar work for “Some Days” is smooth and assured, with a chorus making it appear more rugged and cutting than the opening soft strains might have implied. It’s just as ambling as the other tracks, but it has a touch more vivacity hidden in its robust structure and this serves it well. “I’m Sorry” is a personal number that sports the token, almost cliché strings as a backing number, but it doesn’t wallow in its surrounds. The music is quiet and searching as opposed to overly sentimental, and it’s easy to enjoy the thoughtful and dedicated verses. John O’Callaghan’s vocals are particularly fitting in this regard – he doesn’t croon or manipulate but delivers upfront, careful notes that give the song a firmer grounding.

“Don’t Give Up On Us,” which was released as the first single in November, adds some notable little quirks to its brash music and picks up well for a catchy, raucous singalong in the chorus. “Misery” is similarly likeable – much like the other tracks, it has obvious chart accessibility but without sacrificing any of its character. The lyrics are wanton and dismissive and there’s real fire in the instruments. “When I’m At Home” has a warm, hearty swell to its sound. There’s some distortion and experimentation in its midsection, letting the instruments breathe freely and giving the song a mysterious, incredulous air. It’s compelling as opposed to all out stirring, but more so than most of the others ought to sink under your skin.

“Like We Did (Windows Down)” is a nostalgic affair, with the instruments opting for a slightly lifeless, downcast whine as if to imply lost youth and innocence. Yet, it’s not sad or disappointing – the combination of music and vocals gives it a more resolute air, making it more of a fond remembrance than a longing plea of remorse. The chorus is riveting as always, bolstering the deadpan opening. “While Listening to Rock and Roll” is a bit cheesy and sanctimonious for my liking, but redeems itself in the final minute when the song itself ends and a sullen number begins. O’Callaghan sings with a lone guitar in a distant, affecting portrait that segues beautifully into the final song, “Waiting for My Sun to Shine.” This track ends things on a bit of a whimper, not a bang (if you’ll pardon this over-used expression), though it does perk up and become more vibrant as it progresses. It largely foregoes lyrics in favour of lengthy hooks and solos, adopting an idealistic and summery air. It’s followed by lengthy silence and then a hidden track which provides a more worthy conclusion. This is quite volatile and arresting, with a simple three-way structure of vocals, guitars, and piano, and would have done well as a named track. I never have understood the appeal of hidden songs. If it’s good enough for inclusion, name and number it. If it’s not, don’t use it. Or is that a churlish opinion?

In any case, while this album is a bit vanilla for me personally, it is a very good album on its merits. It ticks all the necessary boxes and provides a stirring, uplifting atmosphere throughout with plenty of memorable numbers. There are no frills and minimum decoration, making it an easy listen and a very enjoyable one.

SCORE: 8/10
Review written by Grace Duffy

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