Manchester Orchestra has always changed its sound from album to album, from the delicate yet schizophrenic sounds of their debut to the strings and meaty production of “Simple Math,” and for the band’s fourth full-length release, “COPE,” the band opts for a heavier direction.
Frontman Andy Hull stated in a “Consequence of Sound” interview that the band was making an album that was “unrelenting and unapologetic,” referring to the loud rock songs contained within.
And to an extent, that is true.
“COPE” is the band’s loudest album to date, but describing it as “unrelenting” or “unapologetic” is misleading. The songs draw heavily from “Pinkerton”-era Weezer, with palm-muted verses and distorted choruses, and maybe that’s where the “unrelenting” aspect of the album comes to play…as the formula doesn’t change.
Most songs start off with a loud guitar intro, which leads to a palm-muted verse and a loud, distorted guitar in the chorus.
The lyrics seem to have taken a backseat to the guitars as well. Hull’s usual Death Cab for Cutie-style of lyricism has given way to simpler lyrics about girls and, as the album title suggests, coping with various problems.
The change in sound does not quite suit the band. The emotion that made Manchester Orchestra’s first two albums unforgettable is almost gone in the band’s quest to make “heavy” music. Hull’s vocals no longer shake in quiet acoustic ballads, nor do they growl on heavy rockers. Instead he opts for a nasally whine, which works to differing degrees.
“Top Notch” is a prime example of a song where the change doesn’t work. The robotic drumming and crispy, distorted guitar noise sounds like any other modern rock band, and Hull’s vocals, instead of giving the song more energy, contrast sharply with the guitar and make it die out in a sort of whimper.
From then on, the album improves from song to song, coming to a close in the epic title track, led by an “Iron Man”-sized riff and packing the emotional punch the rest of the album is missing.
Lyrics such as “we won’t become a lifeless lope that wanders round and hopes for sorrow,” and “I’d arrange the beds like crosses, watch them fall into the floor” paint a desolate picture, perfectly capturing the desperate landscape described in the song.
This is a good way to end the ultimately disappointing album and shows that Manchester Orchestra succeeds when maintaining the core of the band’s identity, while continuing to expand its sonic palette.