Review: Jack’s Mannequin’s “People and Things”

Oct. 7, 2011, 12:55 a.m.
Review: Jack's Mannequin's "People and Things"
Courtesy of Sire Records

For a band that began as a mere side project of the wildly successful Something Corporate, Jack’s Mannequin–composed of singer/songwriter Andrew McMahon, guitarist Bobby Anderson, bassist Mikey “The Kid” Wagner and drummer Jay McMillan–has proven to have remarkable staying power, accruing an impressive following over the years. Their newest release, “People and Things,” may seem like a fairly innocuously titled album, but for Jack’s Mannequin’s Andrew McMahon, it is loaded with meaning. While fans of Something Corporate or Jack’s Mannequin will be well-versed in McMahon’s biographical details, particularly his victorious battle against leukemia, the untrained ear will detect no evidence on this album of any setbacks or struggles that may have marred the singer’s recent life. In fact, McMahon’s illness and subsequent recovery seem to have only made him stronger, both as a person and as a musician. As the third Jack’s Mannequin studio album, “People and Things” speaks volumes about McMahon’s musical depth and versatility.

While he was fighting to stay alive and combat his disease, McMahon allegedly let many people fall by the wayside. This album seems to be his way of making up for lost time and proving to the world that he is more than just okay. The musician has remained humble about his great accomplishments and does not want his hard-earned recovery to be the focus of this release.

In the innovative “trailer” the band created for “People and Things,” Andrew McMahon gives insight into his thoughts on the album.

“I love this album,” he said. “For what it says, and for what it took to get there. And it may not be life-or-death, but it’s life.” McMahon is not just being poetic here, as “People and Things” really is a compilation of songs about life and the people and things that make it beautiful.

In recent interviews, McMahon stated that he never intended to do more than one album with Jack’s Mannequin, and that this latest release may be his last with the band. The album would certainly serve as a fitting finale, as it combines elements of its preceding albums (“Everything in Transit” and “The Glass Passenger”) with McMahon’s new outlook on life to create a finished product that is both aesthetically appealing and emotionally compelling. The rich, almost lilting piano melodies that typified the music of Something Corporate are still here in force, as are the uplifting drum beats. But “People and Things” boasts a new sense of maturity that separates it from the band’s previous works. McMahon still croons about love and relationships in his crystalline voice, but this is love of a different sort–not a teenage dream but an adult actuality.

The sophisticated subject matter is accompanied by a clear musical progression. The album opens with the sunny-sounding “My Racing Thoughts,” which sees McMahon singing about his marital life against a backdrop of intertwining piano and drums. A couple tracks later, “Amy, I” is the most stereotypically “pop” song on the album, and its catchy chorus is sure to make the track a radio favorite. Next, “Hey Hey Hey (We’re All Gonna Die)” is lyrically the darkest track on the album, blatantly acknowledging McMahon’s close call with death while managing to sound melodically moving. Other tracks reveal the band’s musical influences, such as “Amelia Jean,” which channels Billy Joel’s piano-driven melodies and syncopated drums. The album’s penultimate song, “Restless Dream,” sports Bob Dylan-esque guitar chords and is full of raw emotion, marking a brief foray into folk-rock sound. Finally, “Casting Lines” brings the album full-circle as McMahon sings about going home in what could easily be a track off of Something Corporate’s “Ready…Break.” Though there will always be something of Something Corporate in the music of Jack’s Mannequin, “People and Things” is a completely original work that highlights the talents of the band and will have you hanging on to every note from start to finish.

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