Review Summary: All that I know, there's a way to fix it.
Sometimes when striving to make a career defining album a band can overreach themselves. Reaching for the stars, as it were, can come back to bite in the ass. You can’t fault a band for trying to release their “classic”, but often the release requires more of an accident than a plan. By redefining and exploring new song structures and sounds, Manchester Orchestra leapt towards a lofty goal of creating their magnum opus on their last LP Simple Math
and found themselves occasionally crushed under the weight of their own ambition. They stretched themselves too thin in searching for that perfect sound and in return lost a good portion of the greatness that made their earlier work so honest and endearing. Sometimes the realization that you had come up short can be demoralizing, but Andy Hull and Co. understand that when adversity strikes it’s better to learn from the past and use it as a guide moving forward. Reducing and simplifying is the name of the game for the follow-up Cope
In an interview leading up to release, Andy Hull said that while Simple Math
was an album that strove towards being a color palette of songs, Cope
was trying to be “black and red the whole time”. Debunking the theory that artists’ assessment of their own work is horrifically misleading, I find that Manchester Orchestra has completely accomplished this goal. Cope
opens with the crunchy (see: literally would like to chew on) guitar of “Top Notch” and that guitar never relents. It’s rock music through and through; it pulsates and swaggers its way through the speakers and keeps its head held high. Even when slowing down to a snail’s pace like in “The Mansion” the confidence is there, present in Hull’s soaring vocal leads as much as in the mild strut of the undertone riff. “Every Stone” is the “Simple Math” of the record, yet rather than holding back until a full buildup was achieved it gives it all away at the beginning, and the finale is still
as breathtaking in its harmonization. And while the black and red only approach sometimes proves limiting, the album is concise enough for it not to wear.
Hull is still the quintessential post-teenage-angst lyricist he has always been, drawing small moments with a light touch before extracting momentous revelations, this time with a special look at dealing with personal complications. On the plodding closer “Cope”, Hull tries to come to grips with his current situation only to realize he hates the way we deal with problems, in the end resigning “I hope if there is one thing I let go it is the way that we cope”, a direct challenge of album opener “Top Notch”'s doom-saying chorus of “All that I know, there’s no way to fix it”. It’s clear that Manchester Orchestra has taken their own advice and coped with adversity in a resolute fashion with Cope
, proving that there clearly was a way to fix the problems introduced on Simple Math
, even if the end result is not the “classic” that some have clamored for.