Mean Everything to Nothing, the sophomore album by Atlanta’s Manchester Orchestra, is fine. That is, there’s nothing wrong with it. Andy Hull, who shoulders most of the song-writing duties in addition to playing guitar and keyboards, is clearly working hard to put out the best product he can. He delivers every lyric with an earnestness that indicates his dedication, and every ingredient of a great rock record is present. Most songs have a decent hook, and Hull’s guitar work, though well short of virtuosity, is serviceable. Producer Joe Chicarrelli, who produced records for the Shins and My Morning Jacket, is on board to steer the proceedings. The intros for the songs beep and blip in a way that practically screams cutting edge, and should firmly place Manchester Orchestra where it wants to be: among a pack of young bands following in Radiohead’s considerable wake. Sometimes, however, making all the right moves simply doesn’t pay off.
That is to say, nothing differentiates Manchester Orchestra from the legions of other bands out there competing for fans’ attention. Even if this is the absolute best that the band members can muster, the songs sound as if a spark is missing from them. The most notable part of Mean Everything to Nothing is that none of the songs make a discernable impact. As unfair as it seems, this is the main critique of Mean Everything to Nothing. No song separates itself from the collection, and certainly not from the countless albums of guitar-driven rock on the market. Riffs blend into riffs, and lyrics are devoid of anything that demands contemplation. Though Manchester Orchestra’s dedication points to the possibility of good things in the future, Mean Everything to Nothing falls largely flat.