Jack’s Mannequin is the name of a side project headed by Andrew McMahon, the lead singer of Something Corporate. Apparently, this is a concept album inspired by a song-writing explosion following the breakup of a long-term relationship. After hearing these two bits of information, one dirty word came to mind. Actually, “bitch” was the first word, but the second dirty word was “emo.” Is it still a stigma for a band to be branded as emo? God knows, but Something Corporate certainly fit the description. The lyrics are emotive; the music is generic punk-pop with a studio sheen. Jack’s Mannequin doesn’t fit this category as neatly even though the song titles often resemble a who’s who of generic emo songs: “Bruised”, “La La Lie”, “Kill the Messenger”. In fact I’ll throw out a pair of words deemed much dirtier than emo by twenty-year-olds in rock bands: adult contemporary. Yes, the airwaves are ripe with Jason Mraz, Avril Lavigne, and a whole host of consumer-ready artists with songs so bland that even adults find them pleasant, or at least inoffensive enough to be heard during the afternoon commute. For all its piss and vinegar, f-words and guest drumming by Tommy Lee, Everything in Transit is as docile as a three-legged kitten.
This album is best when taken as a pop record because the melodies are its strongest characteristic. It’s easy to throw together chord progressions with repetitive structures. The difficult part is coming up with melodies catchy enough to complement them and memorable enough to differentiate one song from another. “Holiday from Real” showcases McMahon’s knack for melody. The verse has hooks, the chorus has hooks, the bridge has hooks. Even after the hooks from the chorus subside, there’s a new hook to take its place.
“The Mixed Tape” is another classic example of pop melody writing. McMahon has given his girl a mixed tape (though I would imagine his track selection to be less obscure than John Cusack’s in High Fidelity), and he says, “This is my mixed tape for her, / It’s like I wrote every note with my own fingers”. It’s one of my favorite lines in the whole album. I won’t even disseminate why he addresses a “her” after addressing a “you” throughout the rest of the song, but I digress. The lyrics aren’t priceless, but the melodies are. Even “La La Lie”, which for the most part is unmemorable, ends its chorus with one of the catchiest uses of the word “high”, stretched to three unforgettable syllables. “Into the Airwaves” deserves to be on the airwaves, not only because of it name-checks radio’s method of transportation, but because it’s impossible to shake from your head.
One giant misstep comes with “I’m Ready”. It opens with a brief spoken word sketch before launching into a cliché-ridden Mom-and-Dad friendly track. The song is already fit for the filler category before another spoken word section discusses how much it sucks to put on a new shirt every day:
“I put on the same clothes I wore yesterday, /
When did society decide that we had to change and wash a tee shirt after every individual use? /
If it’s not dirty, I’m gonna wear it.”
This is hardly a revelation, and it’s hardly witty. In perhaps the greatest irony since back-stabbing Brutus was called an honorable man, McMahon sings, “My life has become a boring pop song, / And every one’s singing along”. He’s almost correct. But I’d call “I’m Ready” a tedious pop song, not necessary boring. “Miss Delaney”, “Kill the Messenger”, and “Rescued” do nothing that hasn’t been heard before in the history of music, nor on this album. Even the pace seems to meet the same Adult Contemporary Institute of America’s specified beat-per-minute requirement.
Everything in Transit often surpasses middle of the road adult contemporary with arrangement quirks. There’s a hi-hat up-beat and reggae bridge on “Bruised”. There’s piano pretty much everywhere, odd enough for an album that would sound perfectly at home with only guitars, bass, and drums. Rarely is the piano allowed to be the driving force of the songs, though. Instead it’s used simply as an accompaniment. Apart from about a third of the songs in need of revisions, perhaps the most troubling aspect of the CD is that a collection of songs about such a personal episode can sound so blandly general.
I suppose that this isn’t really adult contemporary; it gets damn close, though. The melodies and hooks easily save it from mediocrity, but the album could achieve much more. Then again, who would expect a man too stubborn to change his t-shirts daily to actually vary his songwriting patterns a little?
// Notes from the Road
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