Review Summary: A tale of two halves.
When I read the title “Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness”, I picture McMahon sitting by a piano and laughing to himself. Worse puns have been made, but it just seems that the former Jack’s Mannequin frontman who was the former Something Corporate frontman could have finally settled for just using his actual name. It would have been fitting too, considering that Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness
is the probably the most “Andrew McMahon” album that Andrew McMahon has ever made. If it seems like it starts to get annoying to say after a while, that’s because it does. Thankfully, the debut album for his newest project is far less grating. Citing an inability to move on from cancer and recovery-related topics, McMahon decided that it was time to wipe the slate clean. While his use of Jack’s Mannequin as a coping device is completely understandable given the circumstances, Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness
puts the kick back in his step that has been sorely missing since Everything In Transit
hit shelves all the way back in 2005.
A lot of the aspects that bogged down Jack’s Mannequin’s final record, People and Things
, appear to have been rectified. There’s plenty of songs on Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness
that are bursting at the seams with energetic melodies, enormous hooks, and optimistic lyrical topics. There’s a sense of rejuvenation, and it shows in everything from the jubilant piano notes to McMahon’s excited vocal delivery. “Cecilia and the Satellite” embodies all of these traits – consisting of overdubbed vocals, whoa oh oh
’s that actually fit the song well, and an unforgettable chorus that is surrounded by incredibly catchy verses. It’s everything that fans have been screaming for since “Dark Blue”, and it definitely lands among the best songs of his career. One of the traits that has always set Andrew McMahon apart as a musician is his ability to connect with listeners on an emotional level, and he doesn’t disappoint in that department either. The aforementioned track is an ode to his newborn daughter, and it features an impassioned promise of protection: “Of all the things my eyes have seen the best by far is you. If I could fly then I would know what life looks like from up above and down below…I’d keep you safe, I’d keep you dry – don’t be afraid Cecilia I’m the satellite and you’re the sky.” Between the insanely catchy vocals, the flawless piano integration, and the meaningful depth of the lyrics, it’s basically the perfect pop song. While “Canyon Moon”, “High Dive”, and “Black and White Movies” all come close in some way, no song is quite as aesthetically pleasing as “Cecilia and the Satellite.”
After the first three tracks or so, most listeners will be riding an emotional high. The liveliness and vigor of Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness
is evident immediately, and it is almost impossible not to get drawn in to its brand of feel-good pop. Had McMahon kept up his level of enthusiasm for the duration record’s back half, we might be hailing it as Everything In Transit
’s equal. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Just as quickly as it explodes onto the scene, it fades into a rather homogenous blob of midtempo borderline balladry that causes the listener to go from cloud nine to feeling like the only sober person at a party full of gleefully drunk friends. That isn’t to say that all of the songs in the second half of the album are bad
, it’s just that the majority of them aren’t very interesting. Save for “Black and White Movies” and “Halls”, the back half feels palpably devoid of anything resembling energy – and it extends well beyond the notions of balance and tempo. McMahon sounds bored on “See Her On The Weekend”, and the lyrics he penned for the song are flat out atrocious: “My girl is at the beach and I’ll see her on the weekend, I’ll see her on the weekend, I’ll see her on the weekend. I’ll see her at the end of the week.” Really, Andrew
? Can somebody please tell me when he’ll see her again? That kind of monotony exists again on “Driving Through a Dream”, which for all intents and purposes is just a boring, unmemorable pop song. “Rainy Girl” has potential as a stand-alone track, with swelling strings and gorgeous vocals that sound more and more emotional as the song progresses. In the hazy sheath of the middling tracks surrounding it, though, one might not even notice. It’s a shame really, because with better rhythmic balance, a lot of these tracks could have at least been exposed in a more enjoyable light. But alas, Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness
proves to be only a partial success – soaring high at first, but nose-diving quickly in what can only be described as a front-loaded affair.
As a tale of two halves, Andrew McMahon shows us that while he still has what it takes to craft brilliant pop tunes, he is also still capable of succumbing to the same old pitfalls. Despite being frustratingly inconsistent though, Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness
is still a step in the right direction. While a noticeable portion of The Glass Passenger
and essentially all of People and Things
suffered from flat songwriting, we now (at times, anyway) hear McMahon sounding as eager and alive as ever. If he can keep that momentum going for an entire album, then we’ll all be in for a pleasant surprise some time in the near future. Until then, however, the potential of McMahon’s “clean slate” remains only partially recognized.