When Manchester Orchestra frontman Andy Hull announced that the band’s forthcoming record, Cope, would be a heavy rock record it was the least likely direction one would expect considering Hull’s penchant for writing honest and often introspective lyrics. Lyrics that have provided each release with distinct themes and atmospheres.
If there are two things to take away from Cope it’s that not only did the band go through with this mission statement but they did so with some gut checking tracks that shake foundations — even if certain creative elements of Manchester Orchestra’s style were muted and sometimes eliminated.
The zipper-like guitar chugging of the opening “Top Notch” signal right from the get go that Cope is in your face rock music with a simple yet effective science. Each track jumps into one another with ease and a palpable punch but the intent isn’t always defined. Since most of Cope is kitchen sink rock zipping along and exploding through amplifier stacks it would be easy to excuse the changing content in the words. On 2011’s Simple Math it was the varying song styles that made that record stand out in but here it’s all in the words which is a good and a bad thing I suppose because it means the listener isn’t in tune with the author of the lyrics.
Despite not being able to place a finger or a connection on the overall material, the array of catchy, wobbling riffs is in full force with tracks like “The Mansion” and the band even harkens back to their earliest attempts at simple and clever tracks on “Girl Harbor” a song more likely to find itself on their 2006 debut I’m Like A Virgin Losing a Child. That along with “Choose You” feel like what may only be described as prime era Manchester — long before that has even been established. There are just certain hallmarks they brandish with ease and this track in particular displays a joyful care in its sing song chorus alongside Hull’s instantly identifiable shrieking voice.
Hull is once again ripe with a colorful expression of his vocal work which over time has taken new leaps and bounds outside a certain comfort zone. More so than usual he uses these skills as a proper instrument as he does on “The Ocean” which flies and dies with a stinging and utterly wrong guitar riff. What seem to be missing though are the softer, quieter moments when there is an earnest intent behind what he sings and what he means. The heaviness of Cope outweighs the themes of it and while many songs stack the cards they aren’t as memorable as a “Wolves at Night” or “Simple Math.”
Manchester Orchestra has never been a band that graces itself with a particular identity, and every album has proven this, but Cope despite being a full-fledged rocker, lacks scope and grace with its purpose. The band seems the most distant from its listener but is still in your face with the full force aggression of some heavy handed tracks. It’s not disappointing and it would be unfair to call it that because it stays true to its intent but is far from their most memorable thing the Georgia rock outfit could have produced.