As a fellow Elephant and Castle resident, The Maccabees’ latest album Marks To Prove It struck a particular interest with me. Paying homage to their roots, The Maccabees proudly showcase Elephant and Castle’s most distinguishable architecture – the notorious roundabout – on the album’s artwork. SE17 references seep throughout the album, with the album title track’s music video comprising of a film montage of the area.
The album’s most energetic song – its title track “Marks To Prove It“, rhythmically and instrumentally reflects the hustle and bustle of Elephant, whilst its lyrics reflect the area’s unwelcomed gentrification – “Over the summer, a lot changed / And they all changed to keep up with it / Too complicated, too complex to talk to anybody“.
The Maccabees have matured since their debut album, Colour It In. Marks To Prove It is by far the band’s most sincere, personal and adventurous album. Orlando Week’s voice beautifully lingers with desperation and empathy in the most intimate moments of the album. The stark contrast between sensitive poetic verses and coarse dramatic choruses on “Kamakura” would earn it a place on a Pixies album.
The smoky tenor sax on “River Song” wouldn’t be misplaced on an Ella Fitzgerald record, whilst Week’s almost narrative vocals wouldn’t feel misplaced on Pink Floyd’s The Wall. The timid trumpet solo introduction paints picturesque imagery of a gentle sunrise, whilst the rest of the song romantically depicts conflict and love. “Silence” is my personal favorite; simple melodies, light piano chord progressions and powerful lyrics are compiled to create a painfully beautiful song.
Indeed, the overarching somber tone casted upon The Maccabees’ Marks To Prove It, results in an intimate but yet dark album. In this sense, it perfectly reflects life in Elephant and Castle. Once a notoriously decadent area of South London, Elephant & Castle is currently under renovation, with modern apartment blocks sprouting rapidly around the area. East London went under similar transformations as a result of the 2012 Olympics and now it’s the South’s turn.
Investors and city planners are hoping that more people will be attracted to the area due to its proximity to central London – the tube will get you to Piccadilly Circus in 10 minutes. However, as opulence gravitates towards the area, with investors swarming to every available space, current occupants of Elephant aren’t happy with the imposing edifices. The antiquated buildings of Elephant & Castle are under threat, with ‘Save This Building’ tattooed across many of them, which means that local businesses and tenants are deeply worried. This antipathy is shared amongst many residents, who are vociferously active in saving their beloved areas.
This bittersweet mix of impressive modernization that is unwelcomed and met with incongruous antipathy is a permeating theme throughout Marks To Prove It. The album is soaked in positivity – musically, it is energetic, progressive and is never boring, but at the same time, it is immersed in emotion, deprivation and ultimately sadness. “There are quite a lot of layers to everyday life here. Once you’re embedded in it, it’s inspiring”, says guitarist Felix White. Indeed, any Elephant & Castle resident will agree with this – it’s a diverse place sustained by the energetic hustle and bustle of its people from all walks of life. It may not be the prettiest part of London, but it has character.
The iconic 1961 Michael Faraday Memorial, which is proudly presented as the album’s artwork is outdated and verging on ugly. However, White has drawn inspiration from it since an early age. “It was beautiful” he says, “all lit up at night. And it completely changed my perspective on this ordinary landmark that I see every day. We didn’t need to go searching for some big thing. We could find everything we needed right here”.
The band’s ability to unearth the beauty of Elephant & Castle and draw inspiration from the area is commendable and has paid off successfully; the album truly is an intimate homage to the area. The Maccabees‘ Marks To Prove It is out now on Fiction Records/Universal Music, purchase it here on iTunes.
Words by Cohan Chew