Examining Oxford’s earthly pleasures

Daniel Curtis sees the city through the lens of the 2007 post-punk revival

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

Maximo Park’s Our Earthly Pleasures and Bloc Party’s A Weekend in the City are underrated gems of the 2007 post-punk revival. They are also existential guidebooks for dealing with Oxford, stuffing the spaces between their muscular guitar work with a subtly relatable lyricism.

Our Earthly Pleasures sets itself up to be a rather trite, standard break-up album: “You’ve been/ With me/ A year/ To the day”, begins album opener ‘Girls Who Play Guitar’. But Paul Smith’s lyricism is too honest to be content with cliché. Instead, he is relentless in his examination of the physical, following that lyric with the empirical coldness of “Three hundred/And sixty/ Five days/ Watching me decay”.

Inversely, ‘By the Monument’ muses: “We sleep tonight in separate towns at dusk/We see our disparate futures”. For Smith, love—or a stolen kiss on the dancefloor of Plush—is far from comforting, but rather a way to offset isolation and futility, two feelings familiar to any humanities student ploughing through an essay at 3am in a cold, empty library.

This physicality is not lost on Bloc Party, either. ‘Kreuzberg’ laments: ”After sex/ The bitter taste/ Been fooled again/ The search continues.” To anyone navigating the messy world of trying to pull in Park End, such emotional confusion is painfully recognisable.

As a makeshift solution, both albums reposition happiness away from the city they inhabit. A Weekend In The City’s title is misleading: rather than being an idyll, the city is a prison, which Kele Okereke tries to escape via the suggestion: “Let’s drive to Brighton on the weekend”.

Similarly, Our Earthly Pleasures signs off with the fragile ‘Parisian Skies’, reconfiguring the heartbreak of the album’s very loose narrative into a contemplative space to consider the past: it is under Parisian skies, not those of the band’s hometown Newcastle, that some succour is found.

Oxford feels the same: sometimes, the only way to deal with its pressure is to flee, back home or to the brighter lights of London, to drown stress and pain in either familiarity or in fluorescent neon. But, should you stay, you can’t go far wrong than to soundtrack your time with these two albums, discovering a forgotten year in music as well as a new way to view Oxford’s earthly pleasures.