Review Summary: The much anticipated follow up to "Mean Everything To Nothing" thrills and disappoints in equal measure.
It is difficult to deny the fact that Manchester Orchestra’s “Mean Everything To Nothing” was an unprecedented success. The forward thinking indie-rock soundtracked many of our lives with its driving energy and emotional lyrics, and caught many people off guard with the band’s sudden emergence. So when their third album, “Simple Math”, was announced the pressure was on for them to deliver the goods once again.
It is a bold statement opening an album with a gentle song, especially for a band who traditionally write loud detuned rock songs, yet Manchester Orchestra definitely pull it off. “Deer” is an ambient, acoustic number, containing Andy Hull’s trademark personal lyrics which are sure to touch so many listeners. However, the first proper rock song, “Mighty”, is disappointing to say the least, due to the poorly suited string section. Furthermore, “Mighty” is lacking a decent hook, to grab the listeners attention.
The same cannot be said for the brilliant “Pensacola”, which contains plenty of catchy melodies and has the potential to be a successful single. The unpredictable structure is intriguing and distinguishes this song in particular, as a stand-out track on “Simple Math.” “April Fool” is equally entertaining and is surely one of Manchester Orchestra’s best rock songs to date. Sadly, “Pale Black Eye” is nowhere near as memorable, but all is forgotten by the stunning centrepiece, entitled “Virgin”.
“Virgin” is both the heaviest and strongest track on the whole album. It is instantly recognisable for the children’s choir, which repeat a haunting refrain throughout. The eerie guitar line played during the second verse adds greatly to the song too, as with the grungy chords, which punctuate the chorus. Unfortunately, the album spirals downhill quickly once “Virgin” comes to a close.
The title track is a competent power ballad, but when compared to “I Can Feel A Hot One” off of the previous album, one cannot help but feel a little undercut. “Leave It Alone” is less inspiring still. The song sounds frustratingly similar to the track which precedes it, but without the interesting orchestral flourishes. The album trudges to an underwhelming conclusion with the generic “Apprehension” and the dull “Leaky Breaks”. The final track is particularly tedious, due to the lengthy running time and predictable coda.
It is clear to see that Manchester Orchestra have tried to experiment on their latest album, but it seems that ambition has got the better of them for the most part. Whereas, occasionally the addition of classical instrumentation improves the songs, it feels forced far too frequently. The collection of songs is by no means weak, but the record as a whole just is not as good as the album which brought them under the radar (“Mean Everything To Nothing”). Regardless, tracks such as “Pensacola” and “Virgin” are sure to be treasured by the dedicated fan base.