Manchester Orchestra
Cope


3.5
great

Review

by Adrian Hertzberg CONTRIBUTOR (31 Reviews)
April 16th, 2014 | 70 replies | 5,032 views


Release Date: 04/01/2014 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Manchester Orchestra's first stumble: an uncharacteristically homogeneous outing, but enjoyable nonetheless.

It's more than a little unfair to judge a book (or an album) by its cover, but sometimes this angle is quite telling. In the case of Cope, Manchester Orchestra's fourth official full-length album, many similarities between the album's cover and the music contained within can be observed. It's a simple piece of artwork, a punchy and effective one, but perhaps a little blander than fans are used to and not nearly as imaginative as work from years past. Unfortunately, this analysis can more or less be directly applied to the purpose of reviewing the album. Cope is simple and punchy to be sure, chalk-full of barn-burning rock tunes, but stacked up against their previous work, it falls comparatively flat.

One of the main issues facing this album is the production, which is often dull and suffocating. Hull and co. seem as comfortable as ever in their niche, using thick sounding guitars and bombastic percussion to carry their tunes forward, but these two elements seem to clash here. At any moment when the guitars get louder than usual, the sound of the drums almost completely disappears underneath the weight of the guitar tracks to the point that it's impossible to hear anything but the occasional crash cymbal. Furthermore, the tone is almost identical on every track. We all know that Manchester Orchestra do the thick, heavy, and crunchy aesthetic very well, but the lack of variety attempted from track to track here is emblematic of the larger issues to be had with this album. Remember 'Pride' from 2009's Mean Everything To Nothing, that absolutely bone-crushing piece of sludgy indie-rock, which has continued to stand out as one of the band's best songs to date? Imagine an album comprised of eleven slight variations of that motif, and you'll have a pretty accurate image of Cope in your head. And while 'Pride' most certainly rocks a large amount, the lack of variety on display here really holds this album back from having a distinct place in Manchester Orchestra's catalogue - a feat accomplished by each album leading up to this one.

That's really what all this criticism of Cope boils down to: a surprising lack of variety. One of the reasons behind this band's rise to prominence over the course of their first three albums was their penchant for occupying a vast array of places sonically, and never settling into an unaltered groove. It's a more homogeneous album than fans have become accustomed to; the album is essentially one song repeated over and over again. And though it's a pretty good one song, the album suffers from a lack of replay-ability due to the band's refusal to exercise diversity.

Lyrically, they seem to be threatening to jump the shark as well. Andy Hull's lyrics have been growing more ambiguous as the years wear on, but on Cope they have begun to flirt with too ambiguous. The band seems largely lost trying to keep up with the cryptic words of their enigmatic frontman, and more often than not end up returning to their bread-and-butter to play it safe. This creates a pairing of lyrics and music that can be called "enjoyable" and little else: nothing is so powerful that it sticks on one listen. This is in direct contrast to, say, Simple Math, an album that displayed the band's natural talents for composing soundscapes that fit eerily well with the tone of the lyrics. "The invention of the ship was the invention of the shipwreck" from 'Choose You' is, for example, almost a great lyric, but it requires some elaboration, which is never offered, and the band hints at nothing with their usual thick and heavy guitar riffing. It's quite nearly a powerful moment, but instead comes across as uncertain and therefore ineffectual. Occasionally Hull's cloak of ambiguity lowers for a moment or two and a truly great lyrical moment is found, like on 'Girl Harbor' when Hull muses "I don't say what I mean but I mean what I say." It's a simple, somewhat vague lyric that works nonetheless, but this is one of a few truly clear lyrical moments on Cope.

And yet, with all this lukewarm analysis, there in bold, red letters sits a positive rating at the top of the page. You see, despite all of the predictability, the lack of variety, and production which is occasionally suffocating, Cope remains a great, highly listenable album. It's overflowing with catchy rock runes, each one a piece of quality in its own right as a stand-alone track. But something is lost in the grouping together of songs here, or rather, very little is gained. As a complete album, Cope is leagues below the band's best work in terms of vision and bite. They've certainly added several notable hits to their impressive discography ('Top Notch' for example, with its punchy guitar riffing and anthemic chorus, or 'Mansion' with its…uh…punchy guitar riffing and anthemic chorus…), but it's less of a dizzying ride than any of their stunning masterpieces. The spirit and drive still exists within each song on Cope, but it unfortunately feels much less focused, even directionless, when compared to their best work. Manchester Orchestra have made their first slight misstep with this, their fourth full-length album, but it's nothing more than a stumble: easily righted and hardly worth worrying about for too long. The spark is still there; let's just hope that they can focus it more directly on their next album and return to their status as one of the most powerful and visionary rock bands still active today.



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user ratings (223)
Chart.
3.6
great
other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Aids
Contributing Reviewer
April 16th 2014



23798 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

my first review in like five months, trying to get back on the horse

criticism skeptically welcomed

klap
Staff Reviewer
April 16th 2014



10258 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

adrian hertzberg review everybody *golf clap*

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Aids
Contributing Reviewer
April 16th 2014



23798 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

shhhh not so loud you'll disturb the others

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
April 16th 2014



23798 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Ernie Els is trying to putt!

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
April 16th 2014



7314 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Agree with more or less every word. High 3/low 3.5. It's reasonably enjoyable, but it almost completely lacks the elements which made me love METN, and to a lesser extent Virgin and Simple Math.

SeaAnemone
April 16th 2014



19755 Comments


nice review

I can definitely see them taking this "stumble" after all the success they've accrued via a fairly homogenous sound the past two albums. it makes sense that they'd take it an album too far into dull territory. I'll stay away from this.

definitely hope it's like you say though, and they can somehow right the ship. I'm not sure what direction they'd have to take to interest me -- I definitely don't see them reverting back to I'm A Virgin territory; and even if they did, it'd likely seem really disingenuous or something.

Digging: Towers - Bel Air Highrise Plantation

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
April 16th 2014



23798 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

yeah same, high 3 is probably right for this, but I cannot bring myself to rate this lower than 3.5 when I gave Virgin/Everything/Simple Math all 5/5

and to be fair, I actually have spun this maybe 7 or 8 times, which is 4 or 5 more full listens that I thought I would have given it two weeks ago. Maybe it's a grower?

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
April 16th 2014



23798 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

@sea yeah you'd 2/5 this for sure, steer clear. I have hope that this band will shake off this, their worst effort, and return with something magical, but who knows? I could easily see them jumping the shark (cynics will say they did with Simple Math), I obviously hope they don't.

AliW1993
Contributing Reviewer
April 16th 2014



7314 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I think I've listened to it three times, and I'm not really feeling the urge to give it any more time - though I've bought it, so I inevitably will.

As much as I liked Simple Math, I kind of feel like they backed themselves into a corner with that record. This record tones things back a little, but everything still sounds absolutely massive, which gets pretty wearing when there's next to no variety.

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
April 16th 2014



23798 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

^^^ yup. basically my review could have been one paragraph, but I rambled on as I usually do. I love Simple Math but agree that it started them down this path. They could have switched it up, I think it'd be easy for them to back out of a corner, but they didn't really. Simple Math still rules so hard in my books, but I'm beginning to resent what it represents...

SnakeDelilah
April 16th 2014



5439 Comments


more like golf klap

Digging: Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited

RivalSkoomaDealer
April 16th 2014



674 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I agree mostest with this review.

Digging: Perturbator - Dangerous Days

Arcade
Contributing Reviewer
April 16th 2014



1888 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This is the first MO album I've bought and I'm not really sure I'd want to listen to any of their other stuff. Admittedly, this brand of generic alt rock suits me better than the other stuff I read about when it comes these guys.

Regardless, great review, and you hit a lot of bases I agree on

Digging: Botch - We Are the Romans

fromtheinside
April 16th 2014



17714 Comments


all these off the chart ratings with comments about the album being boring and homogenous

something isn't equating here

Digging: Fallujah - The Flesh Prevails

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
April 16th 2014



23798 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

"something isn't equating here"

admitted fanboys, I ~should~ rate this 3/5

Arcade - definitely don't just listen to this one. Grab Mean Everything To Nothing (or any of their previous albums really).

klap
Staff Reviewer
April 16th 2014



10258 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

damn delilah all the points

Arcade
Contributing Reviewer
April 16th 2014



1888 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

The way I see it is if I'm loving this and it's apparently their worst effort, they've probably got a back catalogue of classics just waiting for me :O

Green Baron
April 16th 2014



18187 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I enjoy this more than most of the rest of the site, about a 3.8 for me

Arcade
Contributing Reviewer
April 16th 2014



1888 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I think this is brilliant. I'm reading other reviews (not on this site) and they're using shonky descriptions like "heavy metal riffs, slight minimalist moments and catchy songs mixed into one". I really think this is just a solid alternative rock record with brilliant lyrics

SowingSeason
Staff Reviewer
April 16th 2014



15341 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

I think the lyrics pale in comparison to their other records

Digging: Astronauts - Hollow Ponds



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