Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – “Zombies On Broadway”
I’ll start out by saying this: perhaps I’m biased.
I’ve followed Andrew McMahon’s career at varying levels of closeness. I fell in love with Jack’s Mannequin’s songs “The Mixed Tape” and “Dark Blue” in high school, but never really delved all that deeply in to the Jack’s catalog until I got to college.
I never meant to see Jack’s Mannequin live. Jack’s was the fourth set at UB’s Fall Fest, following sets by Trapt, OneRepublic, and Reel Big Fish. I was there to see Reel Big Fish, and I actually got to speak with Reel Big Fish frontman Aaron Barrett. While we were talking (and I can’t remember what were talking about), Jack’s Mannequin’s starts their set. I continue speaking with Aaron, and then I hear the opening piano lick of “Dark Blue”. I fell in the love again, and this time, I never fell out.
I went home and downloaded “Everything In Transit” and “The Glass Passenger”. Over the next couple years I learned everything about Jack’s and where they came from, and everything about Andrew McMahon’s inspiring journey through beating a disease that could have completely destroyed him. That led me to Something Corporate. I loved them even more than Jack’s Mannequin. Unfortunately, I got in to Something Corporate a little too late to ever actually see them, even on the reunion tour.
Seeing Jack’s Mannequin the 2nd time was really the crowning jewel of my Andrew McMahon experience. I went to Cleveland roughly 5 years ago to see the band perform, and this time I knew everything. It made it that much better.
That was also the last time I saw Jack’s Mannequin perform together. Bummer.
Thankfully, Andrew had a DVD shot for his band’s final show at the El Rey Theatre, and he had also announced a solo project. I was sad about Jack’s Mannequin breaking up, but at least I knew Andrew was continuing his career.
That led to Andrew McMahon’s first solo EP “The Pop Underground”, and ultimately, that led to Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness.
Andrew McMahon’s self-titled album grew on me as time went on. I didn’t really like the pop element to his band’s new sound at first. Minus one guitar and plus one keyboard player, it was different. As I listened more and more, I realized the album compared a lot with Jack’s Mannequin’s “Everything In Transit” in terms of songwriting. The songs flowed in the same manner to me. It made me appreciate Andrew’s ability as a song-writer. He was able to write popular songs for a piano punk-rock band. He wrote popular songs a bit more in-tune with his emotions. He’s been able to follow the flow of where his career has taken him and what’s working for him and what isn’t. He’s been able to make a career out of constantly changing.
I think with “Zombies on Broadway”, Andrew McMahon reaches his pinnacle.
In the past, Andrew has flirted with using more pop elements in his music. Jack’s Mannequin’s “People and Things” really saw Andrew branch out and really tap in to his pop side. Andrew McMahon’s self-titled album had some pop elements, but it still had elements of old for him as well.
On “Zombies on Broadway”, Andrew goes all in on pop, and it’s great. He speaks with a rhythm for the opening verse of “Brooklyn, You’re Killing Me” with a foot-tapping drum beat behind him – no singing – before belting out the chorus. Alternating back and forth between speaking and singing really seems to represent some sort of dichotomy between keeping the story flowing while taking a step back from the hectic nature of New York’s most populous borough.
Andrew switches over to a funkier pop sound in “So Close”. The song is slow at first until it picks up with some powerful notes from the bass to really hammer in the beat of the tune. Andrew has always had an uncanny ability to hit us with sensitivity over a happy tune, and this really captures that element well. In fact, a few songs on the album have that, which really makes it a genuine Andrew McMahon album. “Shout Out of a Cannon” gives another groovy yet straight pop rock beat where Andrew hits us with lyrics that seem to represent taking risks with someone. “Walking in My Sleep” and “Love and Great Buildings” round out those happy tunes where it seems Andrew just pours the emotions on you.
Of course, there are the tunes that are supposed to sound a little darker. “Don’t Speak for Me” really slows things down for the album before leading us in to the album’s most popular tune. “Fire Escape” continues the big-city theme and touches on how there are a million distractions trying to take you away from experiencing things that are much more important and staying focused on those things.
We slow back down a bit with “Dead Man’s Dollar”, a song that really combines quite a few elements of the album in to one song. Slow and somber in the beginning, it really punches through with the chorus, struggling between the nature of what you do and why certain aspects aren’t all that desirable, but knowing why you do it.
It’s not easy to make something sound dark yet poppy at the same time, but that’s what we get on “Island Radio.” While the opening verse is decidedly empty, an opening devoid of instrumentation, it really just gives the listener a beat to keep time with before the chorus really breaks it all down and swallows up the emptiness of the verse.
The album ends with a slow ballad in “Birthday Song” that slowly builds in to a rousing chorus that really drives the song before fading out with Andrew singing. The song itself is self-reflecting and serves as a reminder as to why he still thinks doing what he does matters.
Like any Andrew McMahon album, the songs flow together fairly well, and each tune has a spot in it where you really can’t get the song out of your head. Andrew’s been writing pop music for years, even as a kid in Something Corporate, even at a time of his life where he didn’t really know if he had a life ahead of him. However, this album really seems brought out this side of himself fully, and that’s a good thing.
Rating – 4 out of 5 stars.