The third studio album from Jack’s Mannequin is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, there’s a pop sensibility to the piano-based alt-rockish songs of People and Things that works to produce atmospheric mass – at least in a musical sense. On the other hand, however, much of what goes on is derivative, sappy, anticipated, and plain.
The trick is in determining if the predictability is an obstacle that can be overcome, especially when the manifestation of familiar melodies and hokey lyrics is so robust.
Formed in 2004, Jack’s Mannequin is the “side project” of Something Corporate’s Andrew McMahon. It also features guitarist Bobby Anderson, bassist Mikey Wagner and drummer Jay McMillan.
Months before the release of Jack’s Mannequin’s debut, Everything in Transit, McMahon was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Thankfully, he made a full recovery and the band toured and released a second album, The Glass Passenger, in 2008.
The 2011 entry in the Jack’s Mannequin catalogue is essentially about relationships, mature ones apparently. In this regard, some of the trite content is tolerable. There’s always something cheesy about a noble relationship, of course, and it’s hard to talk about one’s love without beaming with idiotic joy at least a couple of times.
It’s also hard to talk about the anguish of having one’s heart ripped out or about waiting for someone to make up their bothersome mind (“My Racing Thoughts”) without at least faintly drawing on insipid clichés.
In that regard, People and Things makes a kind of weird foreseeable sense.
Consider “Release Me,” a sort of Elton John rocker with crunching guitar and a slap of piano chords. McMahon pleads for his rightful release (“your fingertips know the code”) and it’s hard not to get caught up in the vertical funk of the piece. Sure, we’ve heard it all before.
“Amy, I” is another familiar package, but McMahon’s simple melody makes it sing in a sort of alt-country way. His lyrical transition from “hold on me” to “hold on to me” is actually very crafty and the sky-high chorus warmed the frosty lizard blood streaming through my veins.
One of the better moments comes with “Hey Hey Hey (We’re All Gonna Die),” a song that strikes familiar chords (how many times can McMahon sing about the weather getting colder?) but actually works as a sort of jolly death anthem. Once more, the Elton John fingerprints are all over the piano.
There’s little doubt that Jack’s Mannequin attracts the sort that considers every newest song, like maybe “Broken Bird,” to be “the greatest song evarrr.” Something about McMahon’s emotive awareness as a frontman doubtlessly draws devotion, but these aren’t great songs. They are decent songs, however, and they will move you in all the right directions if you can handle knowing exactly where you’re going before you get there.