Friday, September 5, 2008

Jack's Mannequin Invites Us To Be "Passengers" Of Life Through Art

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(Andrew McMahon, Myself)

Hailed by many as the messiah of the Warped Tour generation, Andrew McMahon is not your everyday heartbroken and emo-bleeding-all-over-the-piano-keys type musician. When the world first heard his voice as the front man of Something Corporate in their 2002 debut album “Leaving Through The Window,” it was immediately apparent that this was an artist unlike any other in the mainstream media. The success of SoCo’s first album led to a second album, “North,” which garnered enough attention to win a slot on tours alongside big name acts such as Jimmy Eat World, 311, Good Charlotte, and Yellowcard. Once he had built up a diehard fan-base, Andrew decided to step it up and approach songwriting from a different, newer, and rawer angle. The result: he created Jack’s Mannequin, his solo project to express himself through his music in ways he had never done before.

Then came huge, unexpected, unwelcome personal news. Three months before Jack’s Mannequin debut album “Everything In Transit” was released back in 2005, Andrew was forced to cancel all upcoming concerts, appearances, and press for his new musical baby. At the age of twenty-three, he was diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia. Legions of fans immediately started raising money for leukemia awareness. There was a fundraiser which featured orange rubber bracelets with the words “I Will Fight” on them, a lyric from Something Corporate’s “Watch The Sky.” Just through one website, absolutepunk.net, over six thousand bracelets were sold raising twenty thousand dollars for the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation. “Everything In Transit” was released on the same day Andrew got a stem cell transplant thanks to his sister Katie coming forward as a donor. The album immediately jumped to #37 on the Billboard 200 chart.

Later that year, Andrew started to tour again and began properly promoting the release of his record. At a concert in July of 2006, he announced that this was the last night he had to take medication and that starting the next day he would be completely cancer free. A documentary about Andrew’s struggles entitled “Dear Jack” which includes self-recorded hospital footage, is currently in post-production, and also shares the name of the non-profit charity Andrew founded to raise funds for cancer research.

Now, three years after the biggest year of his life, Andrew is back in full swing, and Jack’s Mannequin sophomore album, “The Glass Passenger,” will be released on September 30th. It is already featured on the cover of Alternative Press Magazine’s “Most Anticipated Albums” issue at the beginning of the year. With so much hype around the release of the record, you might think you’re in for a disappointment. But you’d be wrong. After listening to it for the first time, I can honestly say it is the god-sent album we have all been waiting for.

The record opens with the lead single “The Resolution.” The moment I heard the first piano chords and Andrew’s voice, I was close to tearing up. It was really true: he’s back. “I’m alive and I don’t need a witness to know that I survived, I just need light, I need light in the dark as I search for the resolution,” he swoons over his trademark dominating piano hooks and rocked-out band.

I had the pleasure of seeing him perform this track live recently during his opening summer stint for Paramore, and, let me tell you, the crowd went insane. It was the only track from the new album he played during his set because he wanted his fans to be able to sing along with the songs they already knew, but this was by far the highlight of his performance. The song ended with his signature move of him standing up while pounding away at the keys with one foot on the piano, before he jumped on top of his instrument and dragged his stool along the keys for the dramatic finale with one outstretched arm holding his microphone up high in the air. If any rock star is truly a modern rock star, it’s Andrew McMahon.

After this show, I spoke to him backstage and asked him about what direction he hoped this album would take Jack’s Mannequin. He told me that he just wanted his songs to be heard because he had a lot to say, but that people should not expect an album full of sad songs about being sick, but rather a record celebrating everything that it means to be alive. This theme is most apparent on the beautiful track “Swim,” a song about what it means to go through something bad in order to be able experience something good, and how important it is to fight through the setbacks of life.

Featuring guest vocals of indie-pop up and comer Stacy Clark, “Spinning” has arguably the catchiest chorus Andrew has ever written. The track sounds like it was written while Andrew was waiting to find out if he had been cured or not. The listener can truly sense the desperation he was feeling, as well as his desire to shut out the world (including his own thoughts) and put it on hold until he knew whether or not he would live. Lyrically, it’s a very somber song; however, it’s far from any type of ballad and instead serves as a pop/rock track whose chorus you will be humming long after the record is over.

The album is full of songs that still fit into the usual Jack’s Mannequin “California piano rock” genre, but they are clearly more influenced by older musicians than the first record. “Suicide Blonde,” for instance, sounds what I would imagine the Beach Boys would sound like if they were to come out today. The song somehow manages to make you feel like you’re wearing big sunglasses and driving a convertible down Sunset Boulevard on a hot summer day. It’s also one of the most heavily rock numbers on the record, with far more percussion than one is used to hearing accompany Andrew’s voice.

While all the songs on the record are special in their own ways, the true standout track is “Lullaby.” If anyone expected to buy this album and listen to heart-shattering songs about the fine line between life and death, then this is the song you’ve been waiting to hear. The song tells the story of Andrew’s friend asking him to write her a song because she lost her will to live and wants something to hold onto that’s hers. “Give me something to believe in, a breath from breathing, so write it down. I don’t think that I’ll close my eyes, ‘cause lately I’ve been not been dreaming so what’s the point in sleeping? It’s just that at night I’ve got nowhere to hide, so I’ll write you a lullaby,” Andrew sings in a voice reflecting both his and her internal suffering. The momentum of the song builds up until it reaches a crescendo of beautifully intense piano playing. I defy anyone not to feel chills down his or her spine at that moment.

Andrew McMahon has been through more at age twenty-six than the average person goes through their entire life. What makes him a true artist is how he doesn’t allow these experiences to hinder him, but rather uses them as tools to reach out and get others to feel and understand how lucky they are and what it truly means to be alive. When it is released in a few weeks, “The Glass Passenger” will not only be a shoe-in as one of the best albums of the year, but will serve as inspiration to millions of people in need of reassurance. Do not let September 30th go by without buying this record. I guarantee that it has the power to change your life.

Like it? Buy it here