Manchester Orchestra
Simple Math


3.5
great

Review

by Matt Wolfe EMERITUS
May 9th, 2011 | 454 replies | 52,053 views


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Manchester Orchestra delight and frustrate with their third full-length.

Kids’ choirs. Was there ever a time when they weren’t creepy as hell? It’s strange really; doesn’t quite make sense. Kids are cute, innocent, harmless. Get a chorus of them together however and suddenly the rascals will have you running for the hills. Which is exactly what the little tykes have been deployed for in Manchester Orchestra’s third full-length Simple Math. Following ‘Virgin’s lyrics about building houses with blood and crucifying fire, and set amongst booming doomsday guitars, the kids arrive to really nail home the fact that epic shit really is going down, and yes you should be scared. But, with that, Hull and co overdo it, and almost end up embarrassing themselves. On the whole the track is good enough to salvage their dignity, and this is certainly the peak of the album’s over-the-top nature, but it is this overindulgence which plagues Simple Math throughout.

Problem is, there’s such a strong desire to make nearly every track skin-tinglingly epic or cathartic that what the band end up losing as a result is their delightful charm, their sense of fun, their rock n’ roll attitude, and, almost, their individuality. These are Manchester Orchestra’s most appealing strengths, and they should play to them. Just listen to when they do: ‘April Fool’ doesn't take any prisoners, beginning almost immediately with a feisty guitar riff and in no time Hull lets himself become completely absorbed by his own lyrics, screaming and delivering those special moments that were so frequent on Mean Everything to Nothing. It’s catchy as hell, furiously fired-up, packed with attitude, and filled with enough fuck-yes moments to open a fuck-yes store three stories high. Simply put by Hull himself, it’s “got that rock and that roll!”.

But “that rock and that roll” is just too infrequent a visitor on Simple Math to reach the bar set (in fairness toweringly high) by their previous effort. That’s not at all to say the album is bad, or a failure. Even disappointment would be excessive. There’s just a niggling sense of underachievement. ‘Mighty’ could be a deliciously destructive stallion of a track, but its weak lyrics, over-the-top orchestration, tedious song structure and uninspired ending leave it second fiddle to a track like METN’s snarling ‘Pride’. Then take ‘Leave it Alone’; a decent track which had the potential to rival ‘I Can Feel A Hot One’, but it falls short with its unremarkable song progression and melodramatic string section. Too frequently on Simple Math is there a sense of over-calculation, over-indulgence and the over-dramatic.

I don’t blame Hull for wanting to create something special. The honesty in his lyrics is incredible; a commitment to confession which borders on the religious. So of course he’s going to want to create music that he thinks justifies the level of emotion he’s pouring out. In ‘Pale Black Eye’, with heart-wrenching regret Hull delivers the line “God damn I’m tired of lying / I wish I loved you like I used to”, knowing full well the wife who the lyric is about is going to hear it. That’s crazy. But then the music itself just develops into this blockbuster kind of sorrow, with its manipulative strings and choir-like ‘woos’, and the sincerity so evident in Hull’s voice evaporates from the music surrounding it. It’s all so frustratingly dense and histrionic that it’s no wonder ‘Leaky Breaks’, the album’s closer, sounds so exhausted (which, funnily enough with room to breathe, is one of the album’s best tracks).

Of course, there are moments when they strike that perfect balance of the epic, the enjoyable, and the sincere, and no more so than on title track ‘Simple Math’. Here, the band make the full transition from ‘easy to like but impossible to love’ to ‘impossible not to love’. The song writing is wonderfully crafted, progressing slowly but remaining thoroughly engaging, like watching the sparks of a fuse burn before the bomb goes off. And that bomb, oh my. Essentially, it’s a song that manages to take these new elements that have been so uncooperative and implement them perfectly into the band’s sound, taking them that one step further to greatness. Remember what I said about this band being capable of a classic? Well ‘Simple Math’ is their first. Just a shame about Simple Math.



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user ratings (869)
Chart.
3.9
excellent
other reviews of this album
1 of
  • blacklight67 (5)
    'Simple Math' is the heaviest, and darkest record Manchester Orchestra have recorded, and ...

    C.F. (4.5)
    Manchester Orchestra solidifies their cult following with an overdue mature entry into the...

    Gerbilman (3)
    The much anticipated follow up to "Mean Everything To Nothing" thrills and disappoints in ...

    SowingSeason STAFF (5)
    What if we’ve been trying to get to where we’ve always been?...

  • Alxander18 (5)
    Manchester Orchestra deliver a home run....

    Adam Knott EMERITUS (4.5)
    I hope eventually you'll see what you've been turning me into; it's all for you....

    Blindsided (4)
    Andy Hull makes us love math again....


Comments:Add a Comment 
Minus The Flair
Emeritus
May 9th 2011



862 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

a few things. firstly, i'm in my last ever month of uni and as a result am stupidly busy, so sorry if this seems rushed. secondly, it wasn't, and it was stupidly hard to write, just like my previous reviews, so i'm considering calling it a day on the reviewing side of things. thirdly, i'm still not totally sure why i'm not a huge fan of this album, even though i've been thinking about why for ages. and fourthly, fuck the swear filters.

outline
May 9th 2011



563 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

This album rocks what r u toking about

Kiran
Emeritus
May 9th 2011



6001 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

i agree with a lot of what you say except i didn't hold 'mean everything to nothing' in as high regard as you do.

this, particularly:

Too frequently on Simple Math is there a sense of over-calculation, over-indulgence and the over-dramatic.

is what hampers the success of a lot of the songs here for me, 'virgin' being the key example

Digging: Spoon - They Want My Soul

greg84
Staff Reviewer
May 9th 2011



7346 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah. For sure this album could have been much better. I also miss their rock'n'roll attitude a bit.

Digging: Kimbra - The Golden Echo

Knott-
Emeritus
May 9th 2011



10195 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Great review, and I can see your point which Kiran echoed. For me, though, over the first 20 listens (which have now turned into about 70) the things you talk about as being over-calculated didn't just disappear, they became inescapably attached to Hull's lyrics and vocals. I think it adds slightly to the suffocating nature - I don't know, I have the same kind of relationship with this album that I do with Romance Is Boring (bear with me) in that I can see the imperfections that do exist (for me, 'Virgin' is a very overrated track and I feel the same about the choir as you) but when I'm dragged into the record by 'Deer' I don't hear those things at all, I just hear Hull, and this crashing backdrop of guitars and strings.

ConsiderPhlebas
May 9th 2011



6157 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Paedophobes

Minus The Flair
Emeritus
May 9th 2011



862 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

i once elbowed a child in the face. true story.

cheers, adam. hopefully that's what happens for me; i partly left the review this late because metn grew on me so much after i reviewed it. but we shall see.

Kiran
Emeritus
May 9th 2011



6001 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

hull is such a terrific front man in both his vocals and lyrics that sometimes i just want to ignore all the shortcomings that i find

Knott-
Emeritus
May 9th 2011



10195 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Hey maybe that's what I did. Thought process:

There is no way this album could be vocally or lyrically better.

Could it be musically better?

Probably.

How easy would that be?

Not very.

What are we arguing about then?

I don't know, Adam, just shut up and listen to Andy Hull tell his wife he doesn't love her. While God listens. Or something.

Also, I'd better throw away the lyrics that I wrote last night because they're not as cutting as 'Leave It Alone'.

SeaAnemone
May 9th 2011



19939 Comments


over-calculated


I could never quite put into words what irks me about this album (I mean, it's excellent, but there's definite factors holding it back), but I think this is it exactly. Awesome review.

Sigh... I just wish they would go back to I'm Like A Virgin style...

Digging: Natural Snow Buildings - The Night Country

theacademy
Staff Reviewer
May 9th 2011



28387 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

welcome to the site, man

i liked this review quite a bit

Digging: Kimbra - The Golden Echo

robin
Emeritus
May 9th 2011



4247 Comments


matt wolfe

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
May 9th 2011



23801 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

great review, but I disagree that it sounds calculated or forced or something

this has grown on me so much since the first time i listened to it. for the first 10 or so spins I
probably would have agreed with the bulk of this review. but after listening to this album (pretty
much exclusively) for the past 3 weeks I'm now infatuated with it and, honestly, I can barely find a
handful of minor flaws with it. Even my least favourite song from this (probably Mighty) rocks
my shit.

any rating less than a 5 is just WRONG

Minus The Flair
Emeritus
May 9th 2011



862 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

welcome to the site? i really am a ghost here. ta guys.

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
May 9th 2011



7322 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I'm still letting this grow on me, but at the moment your review is the one I agree the most with. I absoloutly love Virgin though, I think that and Simple Math are their two best songs by a distance.

Xenophanes
Emeritus
May 9th 2011



10592 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Agreed, not mush else to say.

Curse.
Contributing Reviewer
May 9th 2011



7983 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Matt Wolfe delights and frustrates with his fifty-third full length

cvlts
May 9th 2011



8954 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

rofl^

Minus The Flair
Emeritus
May 9th 2011



862 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

pos.

Slum
May 9th 2011



2579 Comments


I think the title track could've been a lot better if it kept the mellow feel of the beginning of the song as apposed to the chorus



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