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McMahon finds success with solo project

Meghan Kelly and Topher Mahoney | Thursday, April 20, 2006

Meghan: Jack’s Mannequin may not be a well known band just yet, but it’s on its way. With recent appearances on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” “Last Call with Carson Daly,” “One Tree Hill” and even “TRL,” Jack’s Mannequin has been gaining more and more exposure and an even bigger fan base.

Jack’s Mannequin is led by Andrew McMahon, who plays piano and is lead singer of the punk rock band Something Corporate. When Something Corporate decided to take a temporary touring break last year, however, McMahon decided it was an opportunity to release songs he had been writing that had a different sound than that of Something Corporate.

Jack’s Mannequin began touring last spring and released the album “Everything in Transit” in August of 2005, but an unexpected turn of events left fans wondering whether the side project would continue. In May 2005, McMahon was diagnosed with Acute Lymphatic Leukemia, a treatable form of cancer frequently found in children. The 23-year-old McMahon immediately stopped touring to receive treatment. Despite the lack of a supporting tour, word about Jack’s Mannequin, as well as McMahon’s illness, spread rapidly.

Now, with McMahon recovered, Jack’s Mannequin is picking up steam, getting even more mainstream attention than Something Corporate. After several shows this spring, they will be going on tour this summer opening for O.A.R. One of Jack’s Mannequin’s songs will also be on the soundtrack for the upcoming “Superman Returns” film and another, “The Mixed Tape,” is on the “One Tree Hill Soundtrack, Volume 2.”

“Everything in Transit” isn’t getting the attention for no reason. McMahon combined influences such as Tom Petty and the Beach Boys along with his personal experiences to create a solid pop/rock album. With its creative lyrics, catchy hooks and a California feel, “Everything in Transit” is the perfect summer CD.

Like in Something Corporate, McMahon keeps the piano as the main instrument of this album, but uses his lyrical and musical talents to keep the sound fairly diverse. The opening song “Holiday From Real” truly shows McMahon’s California lifestyle with its mostly upbeat, beachy sounds, while more somber songs like “Kill the Messenger” and “Rescued” maintain an emotional, personal feeling.

Listeners can tell that the album was a very personal experience for McMahon – he addresses issues like getting over a longtime girlfriend and feeling like a stranger in your own town. This album was an outlet for McMahon. This is especially evident in the peppy “I’m Ready.” In the song, he briefly pauses and uses dialogue to get his point across, which admittedly takes away from the empowering aspect of the song.

Other songs such as “La La Lie” with its fun harmonica bridge, and “Into the Airwaves,” the CD’s bonus track, are energetic, rock-based songs that really make the listener want to sing along. One of the most interesting songs on the album is a seven-minute two-part song entitled “We Were Made for Each Other/You Can Breathe Now” that not only ends the album, but also seems to sum it up. The first half of the song is very breezy and has almost a Beach Boys sound, while the second half is a little slower and slightly reminiscent of The Beatles.

Although some listeners may find McMahon’s voice whiny or some of the songs too “emo,” overall the album is fun, catchy and creative. It’s the kind of CD a person would want to sing to in the shower or play while they’re on the way to the beach with friends. McMahon is a talented songwriter and performer who doesn’t allow Jack’s Mannequin to disappoint. “Everything in Transit” should be everyone’s guilty pleasure this summer.

Topher: The current wave of emo is built on sincerity. The appeal of albums like “Pinkerton” by Weezer or “Something to Write Home About” by The Get Up Kids is partly due to their clear articulation of the muddy, complex relationship with the world around them. This demands a brand of music that is capable of maintaining a connection with the sincerity of the lyrical emotion, despite the potential rift between the words and the musical tone that accompanies them.

It’s clear that Andrew McMahon, lead singer of Something Corporate, understands this concept based on his album “Everything in Transit,” the first installment from McMahon’s solo project Jack’s Mannequin. Based on his own experiences living in Venice Beach, McMahon’s first-person narratives have a pop-sheen that disguises the oft-moody lyrics.

The first song on the album, “Holiday from Real,” is a sunny piano tune underlined by the depressing thought, “She thinks I’m much too thin / She asks me if I’m sick / What’s a girl to do / With friends like this.” In the same song, McMahon injects the cool happiness that comes from living in Southern California with the lyrics “Oh-oh, California in the summer / Ah-ah, and my hair is growing long.” But the lighthearted simplicity is destabilized when he sings “We’d waste our weeks beneath the sun / We’d lie and tell our friends / It’s so much fun out here.” The lyrics point to a complicated relationship with the place he’s from, a tone grounded in equal parts reverence and regret.

The fifth song, “La La Lie,” complicates the chorus with the chanted line, “La la la lie.” In undercutting the song’s words, the line creates a conversation the song has with itself – pointing neither to the certainty of having good friends nor the realization that it’s a lie. Instead, the song creates a feeling of hesitation born of a lack of trust that McMahon apparently has in himself.

Other parts of the album appeal on different levels. The second song, “The Mixed Tape,” shows McMahon’s sharp sense of lyrical ability, employing rhythm and assonance to lines to give them thrust beyond that of their straight message – “As I’m swimming through the stereo / I’m writing you a symphony of sound / I swear to God this mix could sink the sun.” “Miss Delaney” has its own Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson moment at the bridge, when McMahon’s voice is recorded over itself several times in a semi-orchestrated manner.

This doesn’t mean that “Everything in Transit” has no less-than-great moments. “MFEO” goes on far too long, clocking in at over eight minutes. While the song might have been revolutionary 10 years ago, the long tracks “Jesus of Suburbia” and “Homecoming” off of Green Day’s “American Idiot” and even Something Corporate’s own “Konstantine” are much better examples of extended rock songs. Since extended songs like these are so rare, anything short of fantastic tends to be disappointing.

Besides these minor bumps in the road, McMahon is right on track with “Everything in Transit.”