Review Summary: Andrew McMahon proves that he can do no wrong
People and Things is the antithesis of everything that Andrew McMahon established with his first release with Jack’s Mannequin. The dense metaphors that he packed into such a short time have been replaced with increasingly transparent lyrics. The message that used to take hours to unwrap now takes mere seconds to decipher. Conversely, the piano lines and musicianship has become increasingly complex and layered compared to the somewhat barren soundscapes of Everything in Transit. The message is clear: McMahon is a different person than he was five years ago. His accelerated maturity comes as a direct result of a few external stimuli: overcoming cancer, rejoining his old band, Something Corporate, and watching his friends and family grow up without him. In this way, People and Things is the most primal way to describe the album; as one about the, well, people and things that have changed while he fancies himself a rock; unaltered by the winds of change gusting through his life.
Knowing this, it’s easy to see why McMahon is increasingly reliant on direct storytelling. All of the things that were formerly familiar to him are now changing; each passing day represents an ever-widening fissure between his life before cancer and his life afterwards. Reducing it to the simplest terms is the easiest way for McMahon to still feel a connection, and therefore the best way to relate his trials and tribulations to his fans. Despite the relative simplicity, McMahon remains a master of the English language. His lyrics make bold statements, but maintain an air of subtlety through words that obscure meaning and his soaring-then-falling delivery that communicate more emotion than perhaps the words do. His pleading with a former accomplice on “Amy, I” and his serenade to “Amelia Jean” conjure images of departure and hopelessness. “People Running” figures the entire race as insignificant and life as futile. Cynical? Yes; but understandably so.
By the same token, the score to McMahon’s musings has become significantly darker. Loud piano notes drown out all other instruments, which hit with inconsistent frequency, like the friends that you forgot you have. Each time you become aware of the other instruments, they sound different from the last time you heard them. The one exception is “Restless Dream,” where the piano is gone and the acoustic guitar dominates the song, as if a reunion where an old friend tells you all about the times they had without you. At first, you wish they’d shut up so you can talk again, but then you find their stories are more intriguing than yours are. Instead of holding them hostage, you just stop to listen. That’s what “Restless Dream” is like. It’s a song that commands your attention strictly through its differences that you have come to miss. It’s the happiest song of the album aside from “My Racing Thoughts,” which draws on McMahon’s hopes to find love someday, and basically brings the album full circle. A very fitting (almost) end to an album devoted almost entirely to Andrew McMahon’s pain and suffering.
As if to coincide with McMahon’s newly altered outlook on life, the cheeriness and whimsy of Everything in Transit is noticeably absent on People and Things. If Jack’s Mannequin’s debut album was the perfect album to listen to on the beach, then this is the perfect soundtrack to a snow day. Surrounded by nobody but your roommates and nothing but the relics of time past, you begin to remember the significance these things used to have to you. It’s a stunning realization of how different you, and everyone else, have become. A somber experience indeed, but one that signifies a bright future: one of sunny days and the excitement at seeing what you may grow to be.