Photo Credit: Guadalupe Bustos
Eight albums and fifteen years removed from their debut, The Maine have arrived at their self-titled era – traditionally a marker of a band at their most accomplished and confident. The Maine, however, does not necessarily register as a towering magnum opus when compared to the band’s previous efforts. What it is, however, is a showcase of the ease with which the band can create their signature pop-rock – a sense of effortlessness runs through this largely breezy and concise set of tunes.
Sometimes, these tunes are too easygoing for their own good. On the opener “Dose No. 2,” John O’Callaghan sings of intense, even disconcerting, love, but the low-stakes pop-rock sound almost necessitates that the song fades into the background. “Blame” fares better, pairing its peppy soundscape and handclaps with a congruous, playful tone. O’Callaghan may have barely been an adult when he first joined The Maine, but now he’s 35 years old. This is worth pointing out because listening to The Maine, you wouldn’t necessarily realize how much time has passed – because O’Callaghan’s lyricism remains stuck in a state of permanent adolescence.
This can sometimes be frustrating – especially in the album’s more self-pitying moments and where its expression is limited to simplistic, even hackneyed, metaphors and similes (“Life has been a rollercoaster”). Here, it’s hard not to root for a more mature album that reflects the time that has passed since the band’s formation. But there’s also something to be said for O’Callaghan’s ability to pause time and bring listeners back to the same point in their lives over and over again. “Funny How?” captures the sense of heightened stakes that illuminate the period between one’s late teens and early twenties. It effectively captures the heady uncertainty of love during those years, both its propensity to disconcert, but also to heal (“here’s my heart and hold it close // Cuz you are the one // That brought me here somehow”).
At 10 tracks and 36 minutes in length, The Maine is a relatively low-stakes project, whose tracks often come and go in a flash. This leads to an album that is easily digestible and widely agreeable, but often lacking in substance. The album’s best song, then, proves to be its sole exception – clocking in at exactly five minutes in length, “Cars & Caution Signs” is The Maine’s longest song by some margin. Whereas other tracks rush to their chorus, “Cars” takes its time to unfold – ultimately not reaching its sonic peak until the four-minute mark. Those preceding four minutes are spent conjuring up some of the album’s most evocative images – as small intimacies are blown up to cinematic proportions. Beginning with an evocative triplet (“I know that I don’t have a plan // But I’ve got your hand // Just under a gram and some dots on maps”), the song goes on to detail a road trip where mundanities like crying to New Order and driving so fast you miss an exit become formative memories. The song climaxes into hurried repetitions of “Are we there yet?” as hope, impatience, and fear of the future swirl into a compelling whole. Rarely have growing pains sounded this good.