‘Love keeps kicking the shit out of me’ Jimmy sings on the title track to indie punk quartet Martha’s third album, Love Keeps Kicking. That theme of heartache and heartbreak is one the Durham band return to again and again on this album – out April 5th on Big Scary Monsters – and while it never quite makes the leap to a concept album (this is a much more grounded band than that), there’s no question that at its heart, this is essentially a breakup record.
It’s also infused with more melancholy than we’ve seen before from Martha, whose brand of pogoing pop punk bangers infused with funny, earnest and relatable lyrics about GCSEs, supermarkets and Coronation Street characters have earned them a place in any decent conversation about the most exciting bands in Britain.
That melancholy is clear on a track like Orange Juice, which slow things down to confront the negative impact we can unconsciously have on the people in our lives – ‘I diluted you, like ice in orange juice’. Or even more so on album closer The Only Letter That You Kept, a stripped back ballad in which Naomi looks back at a failed relationship with both regret and a certain bittersweet fondness for a time when things were better.
But this is Martha, so, obviously, this album bangs. And never more so than on the brilliant album opener Heart is Healing, a standout getting back on your feet anthem that instantly earns its place as one of the best songs of Martha’s already stellar set. There’s still a slightly sad edge to it – ‘this year blew my world apart, admin with a broken heart’ Daniel sings, in that extraordinary voice – but really this is a warm and upbeat song about getting better, and moving on.
Single Into This sees Naomi move onto lead vocals – a move that has made for some of the best Martha tracks on previous albums, and does so once again. On Into This, she offers a big-hearted take on an uncertain relationship – ‘my heart flutters then it sinks, because you only want to kiss when you’ve had a drink’. It also has a slightly slower tempo than Martha usually go for, making it feel like a bit more of a traditional indie track than a punk banger, but giving them enough of a mainstream sound to surely earn them a fair few radio plays.
This is an album with a lot of variety – we see Martha’s brightest and purest pop punk influences shining through on the record on tracks like Wrestlemania VIII, which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Blink 182 record, as well as a much darker sensibility on tracks like The Void, which almost sounds like Cloud Nothings covering The Replacements.
The album’s full of warmth, kindness and empathy, and never more so than on the best song, Mini Was a Preteen Arsonist. Based on the subject of a BBC documentary from the 1970s called Mini, (which is still on BBC iPlayer, and well worth a watch) the song looks an eleven-year-old boy who has been remanded into care for burning down his house, waiting to be assessed as to how much of a danger he poses, to both himself and to others. But the song takes a generous, and very humane look at him for exactly what he is – a precocious, witty, intelligent, opinionated and utterly charming young man, who has his problems of course – but don’t we all? There’s a generosity of spirit here that captures the spirit of this album, and this band, perfectly.
If Love Keeps Kicking doesn’t quite hit the heights of 2014’s Courting Strong or 2016’s Blisters in the Pit of My Heart that’s only because of the extremely high standard Martha have set for themselves. This is a very good record – and one that’s a good deal more grown up than we’ve seen from the band before. There’s an emotional maturity at play here that lends the album great depth, with a more varied sound than previous albums have had. It’s generous, kind and utterly charming, and absolutely stuffed with irresistible pop hooks – so, basically, it’s a Martha record.