“It’s never gonna be the same,” is shouted repeatedly by Andy Hull during the bridge of “Virgin.” For fans of Manchester Orchestra, this couldn’t be further from the truth. With Simple Math, the rapidly growing band is sure to find its place in the stratosphere of one of the nation’s biggest bands.
It’s impossible to say whether or not this is their best record to date. I couldn’t say whether or not its predecessor, 2009’s Mean Everything to Nothing, was better than their first album, 2006’s I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child. Their sound evolves and shifts so much from record to record, that it would be as unfair, as if comparing two separate bands. All I can determine is which I prefer, and Simple Math is my favorite of the three.
It’s their most personal record by a long shot, with Hull writing his most introspective lyrics to date. Hull, who has worked his way into the upper throngs of lyricists, contributes his most biting lyrics to date, with many of them focusing on his personality, his marriage and his faith. On the album opener, “Deer,” Hull mourns, “Dear everyone I ever really knew, I acted like an asshole so I could keep my edge on you. Ended up abusing even those I thought immune. I killed the kingdom with one move and now it’s time to move.” The opener is more restrained than any proper track on the previous album, discarding all the distortion and grunge that the juggernaut of a record contained, only recalling the bonus track, “Jimmy, He Whispers.”
Hull’s voice has improved in the two years since the last record, with his shouts not as hoarse and his quiet moments more reserved. Candidates for singles include the infectiously catchy “April Fool,” which contains my favorite lyric on the record “I don’t care so gouge my eyes, I’ll spend the rest of my entire life blind. Consequence to you.”; the cataclysmic “Virgin,” which features the creepiest use of a children’s choir and haunting guitar riffs; and the title track, which, despite its soft beginning, launches into a song large enough to fill arenas in the chorus.
A personal favorite from the album is “Pale Black Eye,” which offers an insight to Hull’s personal life, specifically his relationship with his wife Amy, that songwriters rarely offer. “I wish I loved you like I used to. So hold on, you pale black eye, because when I sleep, I sleep alone,” are lyrics typical songwriters don’t offer. Again, the strings utilized on the song only work to highlight already delicate moments, working well with the onslaught of guitars and drums, provided by new drummer Tim Very.
While it is relatively early in the year and there are plenty of high-profile releases in the remaining half of the year, this will surely be on many EOTY lists. Simple Math is one of the most cohesive records delivered this year and will surely launch Manchester Orchestra into the country’s foremost rock bands.