June 12, 2012 - Favorite Gentlemen
Rarely does an album review require a spoiler alert. But the plotline of the finale of the Right Away, Great Captain! trilogy is potentially of more interest to some fans than the music. Manchester Orchestra majordomo Andy Hull first introduced the central character—a 17th century sailor who catches his wife in bed with his brother—in 2007’s minimalistic The Bitter End. The Church Of The Good Thief picks up after the implied murderous cliffhanger of 2008’s eclectic The Eventually Home, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be lost if this is your entry into the series. Hull’s ethereal lyricism is simultaneously specific and symbolic, setting scenes deep within the RAGC mythology but still lending phrases to personal interpretation.
While Manchester Orchestra faithful will find familiar markers in Hull’s distinct vocal timbre and subtle if not subconscious nods to other songs in his extensive catalog, this chapter is far more muted in its sonic scope than The Eventually Home. SPOILER ALERT: Since this album primarily takes place as the protagonist is imprisoned, instrumentation is limited even for RAGC. Hull’s voice is the primary sound you hear, and his vocals are sometimes stacked (“Rotten Black Root”) or distorted (“Barely Bit Me”) over what’s often a lone guitar or piano. Although there are truly transcendent (and fleeting) rock-inspired moments (“Barely Bit Me”), the album is largely sparse and slow-moving—more like Bon Iver than Brand New—with only one drum appearance throughout.
There’s resignation in the character’s reflection, but each of the 11 songs on The Church Of The Good Thief is placed with pointed purpose to push listeners towards a solemn but satisfying end to the journey. The concept rarely feels like a concept at all, and Hull has been almost entirely successful as both a songwriter and storyteller without falling into the easy trappings of either. Still, three albums is a long time to span within one story—especially one so emotionally exhausting—and by the time the trilogy closes with the two-part “Memories From The End,” moments tend to drag. Of course, maybe that was Hull’s intention all along.