Whether you know him from Something Corporate, Jack's Mannequin or as the founder of the Dear Jack Foundation, Andrew McMahon is back. His band, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, has released its second album, Zombies on Broadway. Featuring his beloved piano and incorporating more pop styles, here's a track-by-track review of the new LP.
"Brooklyn, You're Killing Me"
This spoken word is reminiscent of Mat Kearney, but if you know all of Andrew McMahon's projects, it'll remind you of "I'm Ready" from Jack's Mannequin. McMahon sounds desperate and grasping in the chorus, allowing for an emotional transparency typically present in his songs, but not usually a luxury afforded to a normal upbeat song.
Best moment: The bridge where he gently breaks down the chorus is rewarding and refreshing.
From its onset, it sounds angsty and gritty. It's basically two songs and the amazing '80s refrain through the chorus is unlike anything he's done before (here's hoping for a Carly Rae Jepsen duet sometime in the future). The guitar and bassline in the second verse bop in a way that ties the song together. The piano is the crux of Andrew McMahon's music in every project he embarks on, but it's luckily already present on Zombies, especially in the bridge here.
Best moment: It's weird to call it a "drop," but at the beginning of each chorus when he belts "So Close" there's an '80s-drop moment of instrumental silence before the era's inspired invasion creeps in.
"Don't Speak For Me (True)"
Already poppier than McMahon normally is, there's definitely some synth and electronic vibes going on here. The chorus is immediately and undeniably catchy, despite its brevity. This song sounds a lot like how swimming feels.
Best moment: The lyrics here are saturated with revenge and growth. "Every day I feel a little bit stronger than I was when I was, when I was with you."
The lead single from this album, and the piano is back. This song is all about lyrical imagery, an album about the city that is best encapsulated here - it's called "Fire Escape," after all. This song is a pop-rock anthemic swinger that's not overwhelmingly unique, but it's exciting and catchy, completely enjoyable and fun to listen to.
Best moment: The final chorus. Again, he's clear in his emotions, in his tone and sounds best backed by his piano. All of those elements fuse perfectly.
"Dead Man's Dollar"
While still being pop-rock, this song sounds darker than the rest of the album. It's immediately sad and desperate. The lyrics in the verses are heartfelt and emotive. The line "I want to make a life, but I want to live there, too" hits hard, especially since it's McMahon's voice standing alone. And while the repetition of "killing myself" is symbolic and meaningful, it's almost disruptive.
Best moment: The bridge is endearingly and refreshingly hopeful.
"Shot Out of a Cannon"
This song really transforms the album into pop-alternative. There's not as much punk attitude on Zombies, and so at points, it sounds a bit overproduced rather than just divergent (but it maintains a catchiness and youth). "Cannon" isn't exciting, though. The instrumentals are unique and bring back that '80s vibe while sticking to the piano. But it fades into the background as a track.
Best moment: The chorus is reminiscent of "Dancing in the Moonlight" with strings.
"Walking In My Sleep"
Synthy at the first instrumental intro, this song is like "So Close" in that the verse and chorus sound fairly distinct from one other. But that's relaxing here. This song, which is essentially a love song with vivid, overtly dreamlike imagery, maintains the synth throughout while - surprise, surprise - being anchored so clearly by the piano. It's essentially an acoustic song that's had instrumentals layered onto it.
Best moment: The most raw moment is the bridge. It almost borders on gospel.
The xylophonic sound at the beginning is fun, but this song loses its wheels a bit toward the chorus. It verges on tropical house music.
Best moment: "I wish that you were on what I was, but you were only on my mind"
"Love and Great Buildings"
The city metaphors here are fun and fit in with the theme of the album. Leading up to the chorus, "Buildings" reveals itself as another anthemic song with a hint of the four-key pop chords, a tried and true recipe for an addictive song. Albeit formulaic, it's a song that lifts you up in promise of better days.
Best moment: It's short, but before the second chorus, McMahon sings "Get my ass back to you."
One piano ballad would've called for celebration - there's something McMahon does so, so well no matter the moniker. "Birthday Song" provides some hints of that, but it's the best song on the album for different reasons. There's a lyrical loyalty here. Not only does McMahon revisit his favorite theme (space), but he sings about his wife and daughter, constant muses for him in the past.
Best moment: Without choosing one line, verse or bar, the extraneous city noise bookending the album really places this in the city. McMahon had similar sound bytes interspersed in The Glass Passenger.
Zombies On Broadway is out now.