God, where have you been? Manchester Orchestra have been quiet for far too long. It’s been four years since the release of the band’s polarizing third full-length Simple Math, which was a sharp left turn from the guitar-driven Mean Everything to Nothing. The band’s dabbling in atmospheric layering and experimentation-based rock did produce some great moments, but it wasn’t quite up to par with Everything to Nothing or the band’s debut I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child. Never the type of band to pander to what the outside voices are saying about them, the band took their time and have now returned with Cope, and the hopes of returning to their place as one of the most talked-about bands in alternative rock.
Cope begins with “Top Notch,” a riotous track whose main guitar riff will stay in your head for a significant amount of time. Frontman Andy Hull’s high-pitched vocals enter the fray as the intensity is dialed back momentarily. The song is centered around a failing relationship, as Hull shouts the chorus “All that I know, is there’s no way to fix it,” with each repetition of that chorus more intense and powerful than the last. The next triumvirate of tracks, “Choose You,” “Girl Harbor,” and “The Mansion,” are best analyzed together, thanks to the way that they flow into one another. These tracks are a little different from the rest of the album, in that they’ll take less of an emotional toll than the rest of the tracks. As a matter of fact, they’re downright catchy. Hull’s vocal melodies on chorus of each track are quite pleasant, and they move crisply along.
The emotion is taken back up a notch again on “The Ocean,” as Hull deals with letting go of his former self by casting it into the tide. The crashing guitars and drums in the chorus paint the perfect picture of stormy seas, and the harmonies provided in the background of Hull’s voice accent the lead vocalist’s very well. “Every Stone” comes up next, and while it begins as if it were among the three-headed monster mentioned earlier, the band take the listener by surprise with a hard-hitting, jam session-esque finish that adds a great deal of depth to the track.
As Cope moves further and further towards the final track, it seems as though the weight of Hull’s words grow heavier and heavier with each passing track. “All That I Really Wanted” shows Hull at odds with a love-hate relationship, while “Trees” highlights deals with an argument that Hull is having with a known liar, and highlights his yearning to believe despite the person’s past discretions. “Indentions” details a yearning to not leave any damage with the people one leaves behind, with Hull questioning his faith in God (something he does with a great deal of success earlier on “The Mansion,” as well). “See It Again” explains the mindset of a man forced to leave everything he loves against his will, and the bleak instrumentals fit the mood of the song perfectly. It is in the later half of the album that Manchester Orchestra sound very similar to their Mean Everything to Nothing sound, with a little more bite and precision.There are also elements of Virgin and Simple Math laced throughout as well, and when the title track closes out the album, it shows a complete and successful progression for the band in almost every way.
If there is one complaint to be made about the album, it’s that Hull’s lyrics, at times, don’t have quite the same amount of impact they’ve had in the past. That could all be by design, though, as the band’s musicianship is clearly the focus here. Hull and fellow guitarist Robert McDowell’s guitars pace and highlight every track, providing rugged, hard-hitting material from start to finish. Tim Very’s drums prove to be just as consistent as they’ve always been, and it’s all accented very well by bassist Andy Prince. The band’s do-everything man, Chris Freeman, adds the same types of flair he’s always had, picking his spots wonderfully in order to accentuate the perfect piece of the songs at the most opportune moments. This is certainly an album you’ll be able to rock out to when alone in your room, and you can never run out of albums like that.
Where Cope truly succeeds, however, is in its universal appeal. The album can be blasted through your car stereo on the way to the beach just as easily as it could be a soundtrack to a lonely night drive. There are tracks that will put you in a great mood, and almost immediately take you out of that good mood altogether. There are songs that can simply be enjoyed, while there are tracks that will make you contemplate your past, present and future. The lyrics can be seen as a storytelling style, or a deeply personal tone. Manchester Orchestra may have gotten too caught up in trying to fix what wasn’t broken on Simple Math, but this time around, they aren’t concerned with living up to any expectations other than their own, and the result is an album that adds to their already impressive resume, ensuring that they’ll be around for a long time to come. They’ve been quiet for a while, but now Manchester Orchestra are back, louder and better than ever.