Review Summary: I know your faults. I know the way you write them off.
is discussed -- which is not that often anymore, aside from the context of Hope
's release -- the discussion inevitably arrives at a few particular points. "No ballads." "It's so much more of a rock
album." "Every song sounds exactly the same." To an extent, all these points are correct, but they miss the reason that Cope
briefly captured our curiosity and then our frustration.
It was a new leaf for Manchester Orchestra, sure, but it didn't have any soul.
Few albums have ever so clearly defined "going through the motions" as well as Cope
, save maybe three songs. There was none of the raw vulnerability and passion of past releases. Half the time, the lyrics bordered on nonsensicality. Songs were rigidly structured and had no room to breathe. And yet somehow Andy Hull and Co. think they can fix these deep-seated issues just by unplugging the guitars, throwing in some strings and cleverly renaming-but-not-renaming their most divisive album.
But do I ever want to believe them about halfway through "Girl Harbor"! A solid but forgettable alt-rock song is transformed into a gorgeous ballad with a bridge overflowing with passion. "The Mansion" benefits similarly from its rearrangement, with tender horns and gentle bass making the repetitive choruses soar. And "Every Stone," one of Cope
's highlights, is even more powerful with the noise stripped away, with the violin-led outro wringing out every last bit of emotion.
And yet throughout the rest of the album, it seems as though the band's symptoms have evolved, but the disease is the same. Where Cope
was noisy and raucous (for Manchester Orchestra, anyway) but insubstantial, Hope
is delicate and pretty...but still insubstantial. Too many songs still pass by far too quickly, failing to build any meaningful atmosphere. And the few songs that thrived on energy like "Top Notch" feel toothless this time around. Sure, "See It Again" has some pretty harmonies -- but it's got almost nothing else, and too many other songs can be described the same way.
It's not that Manchester Orchestra is incapable of writing an energetic alternative rock album or a beautiful acoustic work. It's just inherently awkward to re-skin an entire album, forgetting what little heart it had while piecing together a new one. All the pieces do fit together a few times, and the results are stunning-- but of course, "stunning" is what we expected from Manchester from the beginning. I credit the band for their willingness to tinker, but I can't help but think Hope
is a great acoustic EP that ran about five songs too long.