Andrew McMahon has been a professional musician since he was 17 when his first band, Something Corporate released their pop-punk debut, Ready…Break. Now, McMahon is 32, a cancer-survivor, a husband and a new father. Suffice to say, it would be ridiculous to expect him to still be creating music that sounds like his pop-punk days with Something Corporate, or even his mid-00’s piano-driven rock under the Jack’s Mannequin moniker. However, despite tweaking his music a little to make it a little more synth-y and pop-driven, McMahon has once again proven why he still resonates with the black lipstick clad fans of 2002, who have become diaper bag toting parents in 2014. His lyrical storytelling remains strong and despite an obvious push to create more radio-friendly music, McMahon refuses to leave behind the piano that has always been a crucial aspect of his music.
In countless interviews, McMahon repeats that learning how to play the piano at a young age spurred his desire to create music. Even though most of his early work with Something Corporate tends to lean more towards the early 00’s pop punk reliance on the simple combination of drums, guitar and bass, McMahon’s piano gave the band an edge compared the the other angsty pop-punk, borderline emo. For example, no other band would release a song like “Walking By” or “Cavanaugh Park.” And certainly, no other band could elevate a nine-and-a-half whiny track into a a cult classic like McMahon and his piano did with “Konstantine.”
His work with Jack’s Mannequin relied more heavily on the piano and McMahon’s signature piano stomp during “La La Lie” or “MFEO” quickly became one of the best parts about seeing the band live. McMahon’s voice matured during this time, simply due to growing up, but his songs also matured after he fought, and eventually beat cancer right after the release of Everything in Transit. Andew McMahon in the Wilderness is McMahon’s first full-length release since his last Jack’s Mannequin album, People and Things, and even though I knew that he would have to change his style a little to adapt to the current music market, I also knew that the success of his album would be contingent to pleasing his very loyal fans. And that would mean that he would have to keep playing the piano.
The ten track record is a clean 37 minutes long, with no song exceeding four minutes. This was probably a conscious decision by McMahon and his new label because shorter and consistent songs are usually the most radio friendly. McMahon usually dabbles in longer tracks (“MFEO,” “Konstantine,” “Caves”), however there really isn’t a song on AMITW that needs to go past the four minute mark.
The album opens with “Canyon Moon,” which thankfully starts with the piano that we all know and love. He then adds some synths and a pounding bass line that sets a strong tone for the rest of the album. The piano never goes away, and although McMahon explores some new instruments in the song, he keeps with the piano.
“Cecilia and the Satellite” was the first single that McMahon released for this album and it’s about becoming a father to his daughter, Cecilia, and even though the song on the surface sounds unlike anything McMahon has ever released, it works. Despite the soaring chorus and synth-y beat throughout the song, the piano and linear storytelling lyrics are there. He alludes to his Something Corporate days when he sings “”been around the world in a punk rock band,” and the simple line really connects all his work together. This song is for his daughter and it proves that all the directions that life has taken him have all made his the person he is today. “Cecilia” has also killed it on the radio, playing on XM all the time and making it’s rounds on West Coast stations.
However, the album’s belly isn’t quite as strong as it’s beginning or end. “High Dive” is a mostly forgettable track and I find “All Our Lives” to be cheesy and kind of annoying to listen to. Definitely not McMahon on his A-game lyrically.
“See Her On The Weekend” opens with the signature piano and class McMahon lyrics telling the story of writing and recoding out in the wilderness and only seeing his wife on the weekend. With lyrics like “cell phones dead/and she’s calling/message box is full,” at least on paper, it doesn’t sound like a great song, but it’s produced really well and it’s really just a sweet song for his wife if nothing else.
“Black and White Movies” and “Driving Through a Dream” are the low points on AMITW. “Black and White Movies” has a weird flute randomly appearing throughout the song that doesn’t flow with the rest of the album.
“Driving Through a Dream” has all the classic clues of a McMahon song: the piano, references to a freeway and references to driving, but that weird flute makes an unwelcome comeback on this track and it doesn’t do anything for me.
Luckily, Andy redeems himself with “Halls” and “Rainy Girl.”
Of any song on this album, “Halls” sounds most similar to a song that would be on Everything in Transit, with it’s great linear storytelling and lyrics like “3 a.m. doing cartwheels down the hallway/I’ve been drinking since the day I set you free.”
“Rainy Girl” is a beautiful piano-driven ballad and McMahon’s voice sounds, at least in my opinion, the best on this track. Weirdly enough, this song really reminds me on “Walking By,” a Something Corporate song off of Audioboxer.
McMahon ends the album on a decent note with “Maps For The Getaway.” There’s an obvious cheesiness factor that has to go into any song with a title like this, but McMahon’s solid voice makes it hard to find the irony in the song.
AMITW won’t lose any of McMahon fans that have stuck with him through three different bands now. It’s a solid album that definitely will win him over some new fans who will undoubtedly search through his old projects and discover the music and experiences that brought him to where he is today.
Listen to the entire album on Spotify