One of the faults that musicians today are finding themselves in is in their periods of transitions. While desiring to find a new sound that expresses a certain time in their careers or lives (or weaning fan interest), they abandon the old in search of the new. It’s a paradox of needing to find a new sound to bring in more fans, but not wanting to piss off the old ones. I’ve never been more relieved than when I was able to say that Andrew McMahon’s newest endeavor, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, defeated this problem.
It’s been a little over three years since Jack’s Mannequin’s last release, People and Things. After that, fans were left wondering what would happen next. McMahon teased us with an EP under his own name that experimented with new, poppy sounds that stood in contrast to his previous projects.
Now he’s back again. After composing much of the record in the actual wilderness throughout his wife’s pregnancy, all of his sounds have been mixed into what is his first self-titled album.
As per usual with a McMahon release, the lyricism is extraordinarily adept at telling stories. All of his life is succinctly formed into various four-minute amalgamations that become unique to every single listener and their own life. The specificity that one would expect from such personal writing is instead expanded and felt by everyone tuning in.
The lyrical aspect of this release is definitely the strongest component of the album. Following the birth of his daughter, the metaphorical whimsy encompassed in the first single, “Cecilia and the Satellite” provides for one of McMahon’s best releases out of all of his musical projects. The song is explorative and transitional. It’s a capsuled love song that is promising and timeless with no fears about ever being rescinded.
In what only reminded me of a reinvigorated Talking Heads tribute, McMahon writes, “Of all the things my eyes have seen, the best by far is you.” While the only thing I could think of was “Out of all those kinds of people, you’ve got a face with a view,” I was unimaginably grateful. While nothing seems to be recycled or repeated, the poetry in his lines is easily translated into something that is felt, not just told.
The rest of the album features tracks that amplify McMahon’s musicality, but the lyrics still shine. Parts of all of his previous projects can be found within the tracks, but are never limiting or unoriginal. Rather, they are complimentary. “Rainy Girl” could easily fit in amongst People and Things’ “Amy, I”. “Canyon Moon” would work well played aside “Catching Cold.” The mode of expression is familiar, but more grown up and practiced.
Perhaps one of the most emotional songs is the closer, “Maps for the Getaway”. The song seems to outline his earlier life with his wife. Reminiscent of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin years, it also seems to be a stark reminder of McMahon’s cancer diagnosis that coincided with Jack’s Mannequin’s Everything in Transit release. He even goes as far to say that they “survived it after all”.
Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness is the introduction of an era. The writing has matured, even though it was near perfect before. While some songs run the risk of being too explicit rather than explanatory, the unique and vivacious or poignant melodies compliment and elevate every song in their own glory. With an amazing album exploring a new step in life for McMahon and his family, the only complaint is that it isn’t longer to hold us off until next time.
Key Tracks: “Cecilia and the Satellite,” “Canyon Moon,” “Driving Through a Dream”
RIYL: Jimmy Eat World, Jack’s Mannequin, Imagine Dragons