Review Summary: With a heavy heart and looking straight at you with cutting eyes, Virgin is a thoroughly worthwhile and affecting affair from start to finish.
Argh, emotion. It's difficult to find music entirely removed from it, but it's rare to find a record so submerged in human feelings that it eclipses any notion of technical proficiency or originality. They exist, though: Transatlanticism
, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
and the more recent For Emma, Forever Ago
all stand proudly as examples of heavy, gut-wrenching songwriting made potent by the moods that their themes and atmospheres evoke as opposed to any particularly impressive musicianship or creativity. I'm Like A Virgin Losing A Child
sees Manchester Orchestra attempt the same: emotive, dramatic and lyrical, it sets itself up to hit harder every time it swings.
The 3 aforementioned albums incidentally serve as suitable reference points for Virgin
, in different ways: Aeroplane's
simple acoustics tinge mellow tracks like I Can Feel Your Pain; the soundscapes of Emma
have their roots in the same bleak, atmospheric mindset as Sleeper 1972; and the range of approaches on offer reflects to a tee the indie-rock aesthetic of genre giants Death Cab For Cutie, especially as Where Have You Been?'s intro reveals its nostalgic, downbeat piano. Delivered with efficiency, these varied tactics have their origins in obvious places dotted around the last two decades' indie, picking and choosing from everything between Pavement and Elliott Smith. These influences are not directly copied, but they're hardly reinvented.
plays out, though, it rarely sounds trite, and never clichéd, and there's a reason for it. Vocalist Andy Hull is another example of patchwork inspiration, sometimes recalling Jesse Lacey (I Can Barely Breathe), at other points conjuring Brian Molko (Wolves At Night) and at his softest resembling Nate Ruess, but always eerily sounding like himself. His accent and often defeated tone are mainstays and what they convey is the secret to Manchester Orchestra's prowess. These songs are almost blatantly constructed around Hull and his sincere musings, and what a brilliant thing that turns out to be. "If you knew I was dying, would it change you?"
he asks in I Can Barely Breathe, a lyrical masterpiece of wasted potential. He goes onto plead: "If seeing is believing, then believe that we have lost our eyes!"
and the song climaxes around him. As it should.
And there are shiver-inducing moments absolutely everywhere. Closer Colly Strings is the perfect way to end the record, a slow and tender ballad played out atop gentle ambience and a heartfelt acoustic guitar which builds amid teasing drums to a hollow crescendo which sees Hull deliver, "Besides, we can't believe without fear!"
To say that Virgin
is a masterclass in such soundbites, though, would be to grossly underestimate the group's ability to craft scenes and emotional situations. Standout Sleeper 1972 drones around a mournful organ and has Hull telling the story of his fathers death: "His soul flew right up in the sky, and I cried myself to sleep,"
he begins, and the song never climaxes. Elsewhere there is undoubted passion, crippling doubt and nervous fear to be found. The guitar lines match the mood that Hull creates; the percussion is often sparse but occasionally explodes and nuances like Sleeper 1972's whispered choral vocal tops everything off with an astounding level of consideration.
It would be extremely difficult to argue that I'm Like A Virgin Losing A Child
proves an extensive amount of musical mastery on behalf of Manchester Orchestra, although 2009 follow-up Mean Everything To Nothing is evidence enough that they have tricks up their sleeves even now. But if you think that removes any of the magic and excellence that's trapped between the four walls of their 2006 release, look a little bit closer. Virgin
is phenomenal, a tour-de-force of matching music to a narrative and telling that story in the fewest and most powerful words possible. It doesn't redefine indie-rock, but it does see a hugely significant movement in a much more important sense. With a heavy heart and looking straight at you with cutting eyes, Like A Virgin Losing A Child
is a thoroughly worthwhile and affecting affair from start to finish.