Anything that comes from Manchester Orchestra automatically gets put on a pedestal for me. Between the grungy, dirty guitar tones to the aggressive, passionate vocals, this band has won my heart. With the release of their sophomore album Mean Everything to Nothing, Manchester Orchestra unleashed a beautiful, 4 song demo to accompany the album when purchased at a record store. Needless to say, I got my hands on Fourteen Years of Excellence – and I haven’t stopped listening since.
Manchester Orchestra’s lead singer and lyricist, Andy Hull, is the main force behind Fourteen Years of Excellence. His lyrics are captivating and vulnerable. The emotions in his voice are best heard in Anne Louise, when he sings, “And I hope that you’ll remember me in heaven / God I hope you don’t remember that in heaven / God I hope that they’ll allow me into heaven / Look what I’ve become.”
Hull has been blessed with the gift of lyricism. Not only does he write all of the lyrics for Manchester Orchestra, he also has a side project called Right Away, Great Captain where he creates an acoustic driven storyline. Right Away, Great Captain is a three album saga from the perspective of a 17th century sailor who catches his wife in an act of betrayal with his very own brother. Though Fourteen Years of Excellence is a Manchester Orchestra release, the music and lyrics are more up the alley of a Right Away, Great Captain song.
My favorite of the record is It’s Okay with Me, which possesses the perfect mixture of hopeful music with solemn lyrics. Hull’s inspiration, which heavily comes from his ‘Christian upbringing’, is the questioning, the faith and the suffering that comes along with a belief in God. In It’s Okay with Me, Hull pleads, “I am a man that does not have a way / Millions of oceans can show me you say … and I still wait around to see if they’ll let me go / through heaven’s doors, alone.” Also, in Do You Really Like Being Alone, Hull furthers his confusion when he says, “And the Lord made me confront my past / We asked each other to explain the mess / I believed with enough good I’d mend / But any good I had was always simply tepid / And I tried hard to sing like they did / With my arms raised in the air I was praising / You said that when we died it would send / But maybe even Jesus knew that I was faking.” Hull is vulnerable and he lays it all out on the table for the listeners and that’s one of the best parts about the Manchester Orchestra experience.
With this being said, I have nothing bad to say about Fourteen Years of Excellence. The alternative, more laid back version of the single Shake It Out provides a nice change of pace on the record. Although the lyrics can seem dark, they are deep and extremely inspiring. If you are a fan of Manchester Orchestra, you need to get your hands on this short album. If you have never had a Manchester Orchestra experience, I recommend starting with Mean Everything to Nothing; however this is a great alternative.