Jack’s Mannequin album brings new life

By Ransom Cozzillio
November 16, 2011

Grow or fail; true of both life and music. For people, we stagnate, stick in spots and stop moving forward. For bands, they lose interest, from fans, from themselves, with each stationary step.

Growth is the grand key, and with their newest album, “People and Things,” Jack’s Mannequin proves they both understand and live that key through their music.

Since their debut album “The Mixed Tape” in 2005, Jack’s Mannequin has sung a life in three parts: “Everything in Transit,” was a fast-paced, upbeat revelry in youth; “The Glass Passenger,” was a sobering examination of life’s impermanence, stemming in no small part from lead singer/songwriter Andrew McMahon’s battle with Leukemia.

The band’s latest effort, “People and Things,” is an exploration of the next step in life. The manic ups and downs of unbridled youth are gone, replaced now by the stark sobriety of adulthood. That new focus is echoed by a greater feeling of self-reflection throughout the album.

With the varied melodies, crisp vocals and haunting piano tracks that Jack’s Mannequin has become known for, “People and Things” adroitly confronts our awkward growth into the more permanent and unforgiving adulthood without bogging down in the complex undertones, whereas previous albums lost cohesion at times, a sense of album-wide focus and clarity of theme, coupled with the aforementioned varying melodies, unifies this effort beyond a mere collection of piano-pop songs.

The album opens on a high note with the fast-paced, upbeat “My Racing Thoughts,” which explores the excitement of meeting someone worthwhile, of finding stability in unstable times. This manic beginning belies the tone the album will take in later songs while affirming theme of newfound instability.

Following that early high, “Television” and “Amy I” slow the album down and serve as two solemn accounts of dying relationships. Both songs make perfect use of McMahon’s haunting lyricism and soaring vocals, brining an immediately more serious, somber tone to the album.

“Amy I” laments the cooling of prior love: “Another long winter trying to fight this freeze, waiting but the cold’s got a hold of me…Amy I, I never felt this kind of cold before…” And “Television” brings to bear the pain of living in a relationship that has long since soured: “You and I baby we’re a broken record, turn around we’re making sound but only for the noise, and what if I could live like this but not forever…”

As the album progresses, songs like “People, Running,” are more than just the central song on the track list; they serve as a thematic center for the album. In it, the band sings about the dizzying search for meaning in our transient lives. The quick, short melodies and tight verses mirror the songs frantic subject.

“People and Things” winds down with sobering reflections such as “Restless Dream,” the penultimate track, an acoustic ode to lost friendship and the regrets that come with age. The regret is almost palpable as McMahon shows off his vocal acumen and sings: “It’s funny how the words we never say can turn into the only thoughts we know, but Austin’s just so very far away, and I cannot believe I let you go…”

The album ends on “Casting Lines,” a grandiose counter for the preceding song; a rejoicing of the links that hold us together and anchor us to what matters, even when time seems to tear it all apart. With this, “People and Things” ends on a high note after carrying the listener through new and often foreboding territory.

“People and Things” represents the next step for a band that has already proved its mettle. Jack’s Mannequin hone their already admirable musical talents into a more refined package while widening their gaze and maturing as a band. In doing so, they dig new depths both for the band and the listener to explore. For those new to Jack’s Mannequin, it may not be as approachable or as emotive as their previous works. It lacks the unbridled exuberance of their first album, and the weary-gravitas of their second, “Dark Blue” but it acquits itself well by offering a more rewarding experience from start to finish.

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Ransom Cozzillio

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