“She thinks I’m much too thin, she asks me if I’m sick”
The opening lines of Jack’s Mannequin’s debut album Everything in Transit, Something Corporate singer/pianist Andrew McMahon’s side project, remind us all too well of Andrew’s recent struggles with leukemia. Written before his diagnosis, the lines turned out to be eerily prescient of his coming sickness. Though he appears to be making a speedy and full recovery thus far (let’s hope there’s no relapse), the sheer idea that we might have lost Andrew is downright heartbreaking and upsetting. It seems, unfortunately, that only when we lose, or are about to lose, someone that we truly appreciate them and all that they have to offer. Let us be thankful then, now and forever, for the breathtaking music that Andrew has given us and will continue to make. Let us never forget how truly fortunate we are to have Andrew with us.
From spirited songs about living life to its fullest to gut-wrenching ballads on hopeless despair, Everything in Transit explores the complete emotional spectrum, taking you along on a journey that will make you both smile and cry, sometimes even in the same song. I’m not usually one to care about lyrics, but to not pay attention to the lyrics on this album would be doing one’s self a disservice—the music is incredible enough, but McMahon’s impassioned words really take the songs to an entirely different level, not only offering comfort in their relatability, but also offering hope with their positive outlook. Beneath Andrew’s calm but powerful voice is accompaniment not unlike the backing music found on Something Corporate albums: strongly piano-centered, mid-tempo pop rock drives the album along with a sense of playful maturity at times, and solemn sophistication at others.
I’ll try not to do a track-by-track rundown, because I know those can be a bit boring, but it’s going to be really hard not to—every song on this album deserves mention. “Holiday From Real,” the first track, made me smile the second I heard it, as it overflows with a sunny, warm, carefree energy, especially when Andrew sings in the pre-chorus: “Oh, California in the summer / And my hair is growing long / Fuck yeah, we can live like this.” Fuck yeah. Every time I hear those lines, I can’t help but imagine myself driving in California with the windows down, without a care in the world. There is a certain, special quality about this album—each and every song creates its own set of vivid images and moods, something I find to be really wonderful. The chorus in the song is no less cheerful than the pre-chorus, as Andrew sings out, “But if you left it up to me / Every day would be / A holiday from real” over melancholic, yet positive sounding, piano-driven backing.
The second track, “Mixed Tape,” starts out with a slightly dirty guitar playing a chord progression a couple times before Andrew joins in for a quick line (no, I’m not talking about coke, you sick asshole), only to have the song explode moments later. The verses continue on in this manner of quiet/heavy alternation, except with different instrumentation each time. The chorus is anthemic and catchy, and the bridge features one of the most beautiful piano melodies I’ve heard in a long time. “Bruised” is one of the more heart-rending, personal songs on the album, dealing with the leaving of a loved one. One can’t help but sympathize for Andrew when he passionately sings out “Oh pilot, can you help me? / Can you make this last? / This plane is all I got / So keep it steady now / ‘Cause every inch you see is bruised, bruised.” “I’m Ready” follows next, and I must say, this is one of my favorite tracks on the album. The song starts out with Andrew doing a short spoken word intro (“And today was a day just like any other”) before it launches into a very smooth, full band chord progression with a gorgeous piano melody layered on top. After the first verse, the band begins a crescendo as if the chorus is coming up, but they then pull back and go into another verse. It’s a total blue ball, but it makes that first chorus that much more enjoyable. The chorus itself is both huge and beautiful—totally uplifting, especially with the background vocals. Later on in the song, Andrew does another spoken word interlude, characteristic of his wonderful, carefree attitude: “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.”
I realize I’ve done the whole track-by-track analysis so far, so I’m going to try to spread out the rundowns a bit. I know everyone will have their favorite songs and might disagree with me, but these next few songs are the ones that really caught my attention (every song is great, these are just the ones that mean more to me). “Kill the Messenger” is one of the sadder songs on the album, capturing the rainy mood of the lyrics perfectly. The chorus is one of the best on the album, and if you listen closely enough, you can hear faint sitars in the background. “Mrs. Delaney” is another great song, much like “Kill The Messenger” in terms of mood. The chorus however, is perhaps the catchiest on the entire CD: “Oh, Mrs. Delaney / Where’s your boyfriend? / He isn’t up in heaven / So why treat him like he’s dead.” Though I won’t talk about it in great detail, “Into the Airwaves” is a song that is very similar to “The Astronaut” on Something Corporate’s Leaving Through the Window, so you know it’s catchy as hell (and the pre-chorus melody reminds me of Simon & Garfunkel for some reason). “Rescued” is by far the saddest song on the album, as Andrew calls out “Oh, I can feel her / She’s dying just to keep me cool / I’m finally numb, so please / Don’t get me rescued.” Later on in the bridge he sings “And it’s unclear / But this may be my last song”—let’s certainly hope not.
The album closes with “La La Lie,” a ridiculously uplifting, positive song complete with gang vocals. The gang chants “La la lie” beneath Andrew’s confident words in the chorus: “Well I’ve got friends who / Will help me pull through / The space that I can’t get out / I’m coming back to my girl by July.” Once again, it’s amazing that he wrote these lyrics before he got sick, as they are so prescient of his battle with cancer. The song keeps up the positive energy in the bridge with Andrew yelling out “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!,” followed by both harmonica and guitar interludes. The song then ends really well with the chorus repeated many times, “La la lie” still going strong and building in the background. It’s hard not get choked up. If you listen to only one song on this album, make it this one.
Everything in Transit is one of the best pop rock records I have ever heard, and is further testament as to why Andrew McMahon is the one of the greatest songwriters of our generation. Everything in Transit is an album that will make you laugh, cry, and truly appreciate life—not only because of singer Andrew McMahon’s recent struggle with cancer, but because that’s just the way the music is. Lyrics aside (as phenomenal as they are), the music is special, and there’s no other way to describe it: it is simply beautiful and touching. Andrew, thank you for your amazing music—we are extremely fortunate to have you, and wish you all the best in this continuing battle that so many of us want to fight along with you.