Maximo Park's Paul Smith (centre) says their newest album, <i>The National Health</i>, shares a philosophical continuum with the band's earlier records.

Maximo Park's Paul Smith (centre) says their newest album, The National Health, shares a philosophical continuum with the band's earlier records.

IT'S a Thursday night at Liverpool Academy and Maximo Park singer Paul Smith has just been greeted off-stage by the news that art-rock upstarts Alt-J have won the £20,000 ($31,000) Mercury Prize.

''I'm slightly disappointed that my friends in Field Music didn't win,'' Smith says, laughing. ''I know for a fact it's quite difficult for them to just sustain themselves, and they're always trying to go out there and do what they can within reason … They're a great live band but, ultimately, they like being in the studio - and you need to have money to do that. Otherwise, it's back to your old job and you'll be struggling to make the money or pay the rent.''

Seven years ago, the Newcastle five-piece found themselves in a similar position. They were nominated for a Mercury for A Certain Trigger, their urgent 2005 debut, which featured Smith's acute observations sung in a distinct Geordie accent, and a string of spiky pop singles such as Apply Some Pressure, The Coast Is Always Changing and Going Missing. They ultimately lost out to Antony and the Johnsons, but the nomination did wonders for their career.

''It was an important time in our development,'' Smith says. ''When we got nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, it really helped people get a grip on the band. There were more explanations about the band going around, and people got to hear the music a bit more.''

Maximo Park were perhaps unlucky not to score a second Mercury nomination this year for fourth album The National Health, their searing address to the nation. Though not an overtly political record, the album's title frames even love songs such as Take Me Home in a context of agitation and fear.

Things aren't right with the world, Smith says, but it's up to the individual to evoke change and put things right. ''For me, you've always got to keep trying to mix things up and change things around. And yet, at the same time, you have to do things that feel right to you,'' he says.

''I feel there's a continuum with our other records. Stuff like Our Velocity [from 2007's Our Earthly Pleasures] is a song that has multiple layers of meaning, and you can say exactly the same about a lot of things on the new record. The title track, for example, is an ode to frustration and that can come in many different forms. The fact it's called The National Health allows people to look at the undertones of it from a national, political point of view.''

So it's a concept record? ''[No], but … it alludes to a concept,'' Smith says. ''When you're listening to it, hopefully you're asking that question, 'What is this record about?' That title is our most forceful and elusive.''

The band are returning to Australia for the first time since 2009, playing shows in Melbourne and Sydney, as well as the Falls Festival over New Year's in Lorne and Marion Bay, Tasmania. ''We want to play as much of The National Health as we possibly can, but we're also conscious of the fact that we're playing a festival and … there'll be people there that have never seen us before,'' Smith says. ''You want to come out the blocks all guns blazing and give people the songs that would create a good atmosphere.''

Maximo Park play the Corner Hotel, Richmond, on January 2.