Is Dashboard Confessional just too mainstream for you? Are you the go-to trendsetter of your ninth grade English class? Is old Bright Eyes a little too… intimidating? If the answer to any of these questions is a nod of your dyed black, asymmetrically haircutted head, then you should pick up the debut album of Manchester Orchestra. Fit for consumption only by ticked off, mildly rebellious AP students, I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child is a great example of the music community’s recent penchant for confusing whispers and yells for depth, overwrought imagery for poetry, and for calling a slight aptitude for stringing it all together, talent.
Led by 19-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist Andy Hull, Manchester Orchestra started life as a diversion from high school for Hull and friends in their hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child is their first full length album, coming after an EP effort entitled You Brainstorm, I Brainstorm, But Brilliance Needs a Good Editor. Unfortunately, Hull and his friends lack the brilliance or the editing capabilities to pull off a successful album. The CD opens with Interpol-esque “Wolves At Night”, a catchy enough tune with enough organ and heavy guitars to keep the kids interested.
Unfortunately, the lyrics are straight out of Emo101:
“I confide in wolves at night/
Well, have you seen my baby girl/
It ends, puzzlingly, on a light note, with a repeated chorus of “bob baa, ba dab baa baa”, which sounds oddly out of place, to say the least. It sounds even more odd considering that the following song, “Now That You’re Home”, leads off with some head banging power riffs. The song juxtaposes those riffs with platitudes about trying to be good, trying to be rescued, trying to see, and Jesus. God is very much a presence on this album, although rarely in a deeper and more meaningful way than having his name taken in vain.
The third song, “The Neighborhood is Bleeding”, is the most successful, partly because Hull seems to set aside some of his more annoying vocal tics, (including over enunciating words), and just sings it for a change. It’s a straight-up alternative rock song: Matchbox Twenty for the skinny leg jean set. The fun doesn’t last long, however, because Hull and Co. decide to follow up their most promising track with the third-rate Ben Gibbard impression, “I Can Feel Your Pain”. Gentlemen, I beg to differ.
The rest of the album continues in the same vein, with trite lyrics yelled at full volume over churning guitars and nary an original idea in the whole thing. Hull claims to be influenced by Woody Allen. The song titles “Sleeper 1972” and “Alice and Interiors” are nods to the director’s films. To my ears, a preoccupation with death is the only thing Manchester Orchestra and Woody Allen have in common, and even that’s a stretch.
While some of Allen’s greatest lines about death entwine fear, helplessness, and a biting black humor, Hull’s treatment of the subject is never deeper than the lyrical equivalent of a Scream mask and a cardboard sickle. For instance, in “I Can Barely Breathe”, Hull informs his audience that:
“Everybody has their reasons/
That’s the reason we’re all gonna die”
Death has certainly inspired some great and meaningful artistic endeavors, but it’s also responsible for a heap of maudlin, self indulgent crap. It’s unfortunate that the majority of Manchester Orchestra’s efforts fall under the latter category. Hull has a decent voice and certainly seems to want his experiment to work, having gone so far as to home school himself for his senior year of high school in order to focus on his music. And there is clearly enough musical aptitude among his bandmates to make me think that a good, solid, interesting CD from Manchester Orchestra is not an impossibility. As Allen himself might say, It’s not that I’m not afraid of that album. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.