Review Summary: The whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.
MO’s third full-length release is a confusing one until given a fully fleshed-out, detailed listen. “Mean Everything To Nothing” is the album title, and when taken out of that context it is but a grammatically incorrect fragment of a sentence. It is clearly missing the Subject, a vital component to any thought. Who, or what means everything to nothing? It’s intriguing and thought provoking. And therein lies the genius of the LP: It’s mysterious. Luckily singer Andy Hull explores the meaning behind the title through his lyrics, eventually allowing the mysterious phrase to blossom into a full thought-a moment of enlightenment for the listener when heard for the first time. It would be a crime to have such a potentially fulfilling and interesting theme go to waste if the music was not held to the same standards.
A beautifully crafted idea with intelligent lyricism cannot stand alone unless the music behind it is just as beautiful. MO’s sound is cohesive, and anything but monotonous. Shifting from catchy riffs such as the one heard throughout standout album opener “The Only One” to the unexpectedly badass riff of “Pride” that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Spaghetti Western flick; Mean Everything to Nothing has outstanding and varied guitar work. As far as the instrumentals go, the lead guitarist Robert Mcdowell and drummer Jeremiah Edmond are the strongest players. The latter displays some of his best work in the album opener.
And then of course there are songs of the quintessential MO style in “Everything to Nothing” and “I Can Feel a Hot One”. Reminiscent of the highlights of their previous LP, the gentler, more depressing songs are where the band absolutely shines. Additionally Manchester Orchestra completely avoids a common problem that comes along with having a reasonably varied set of songs: fluidity and pacing. There are no abrupt endings to be found, and each song feels like the perfect build-up to what comes next. Nailing the aspect of arrangement within the album makes for a more immersive and overall enthralling listen.
But when it comes to albums that are considered “classics”, such high regard is only accredited to some intangible feature that transcends the standards of most other albums. In other words it’s a “spark”, whether that means a well-crafted theme coming full circle, or brilliance in an artistic vision being perfectly realized. Mean Everything to Nothing’s rating rests in the arms of the former. The album title plants a seed that, at the final two songs flourishes and reveals itself to be something as fulfilling as one could hope for in music. It’s a moment of realization and understanding for the listener that makes the fifty-three minute run time of the album more than worth the listen.