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Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – Upside Down Flowers

Discussion in 'Article Discussion' started by Melody Bot, Nov 15, 2018.

  1. Melody Bot

    Your friendly little forum bot. Staff Member

    This article has been imported from for discussion. All of the forum rules still apply.

    When Andrew McMahon announced his new LP, Upside Down Flowers, he referred to the album’s producer, Butch Walker, as a “fellow traveler.” That word choice was fitting, because if one word could describe McMahon over the 20 years that have so far encompassed his career, “traveler” is it. McMahon has made a lot of types of records over the years. He’s made emo-flecked piano rock records and sunny pop-punk records. He’s made Americana-influenced road trip records and towering stadium pop records. He’s made records about California and records about New York. He made one of the ultimate records about living young and free, followed by a record about almost dying young. He’s traversed a lot of territory over the course of eight LPs and three very distinct chapters. But he’s never made a record quite like Upside Down Flowers before, a record that is, ostensibly, about a traveler looking back and taking stock of where he’s been so far.

    Upside Down Flowers is the most outwardly nostalgic album that McMahon has ever made. He’s written about the past before, but never in such detail or with such a storyteller’s eye. The first song on the album is called “Teenage Rockstars,” and it’s an unabashed tribute to McMahon’s bandmates from the Something Corporate days. The second song is called “Ohio,” and it vividly recounts the drive that transplanted his family from Ohio to the west coast—right down to the band that was playing on the car stereo. Listening to these songs feels like sitting next to McMahon on a couch, flipping through a photo album of old polaroids and hearing him recount the adventures and misadventures depicted in each. It’s a kind of intimacy we haven’t heard from him before.

    Even when McMahon’s songs are inventions of fiction, they retain the same grounded, and lived-in feel that the autobiographical bits carry. See “Paper Rain,” about a desperate man betting everything he has on a Las Vegas card game, or “Penelope,” about a restless girl running away from something. These songs have such deep empathy for their characters that they feel like they’re about long-lost friends—or maybe about McMahon himself—even if they aren’t.

    As recently as last year, some people would have accused McMahon of chasing pop trends. The Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness era has been defined by synthesizers, big hooks, and even bigger pop production. The 2014 single “Cecilia and the Satellite” brought McMahon closer to mainstream success than he’d ever been, and 2017’s Zombies on Broadway was his most pop-centric album yet. Upside Down Flowers is a reversal. There’s not a song here that could be positioned for mainstream pop radio. Instead, these songs carry a distinctly classic feel. Rather than writing for pop radio, McMahon sounds like he’s reconvening with the artists that have always been core influences: Billy Joel, Elton John, The Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, The Beach Boys, Tom Petty. The character in “Paper Rain” could be from a Bruce song, while the sweeping strings of “Penelope” give it the weightless, timeless beauty of an Abbey Road ballad. Butch Walker’s production adds to the throwback feel, underlining the richness and lushness of the arrangements and sometimes even putting the focus on instruments that aren’t McMahon’s trusty piano: lots of strings; thumping basslines; pounding drums; expressive acoustic guitar accents; at least one sublimely emotional electric guitar solo. These elements bring extra emotion and color to these songs—things that weren’t lacking anyway. The result is an album that offers a more varied and full-bodied start-to-finish arc than anything we’ve heard from McMahon since The Glass Passenger.

    There’s a song tucked near the back of this album called “House in the Trees,” and it’s arguably one of the four or five best songs that McMahon has ever written. Like much of this record, the song is about looking back and realizing just how much things have changed. It’s for those late-night drives when you find yourself thinking about the past and the people who used to be in your life but aren’t anymore. Why does that happen? Why do we let go of the friends who once served as major cornerstones to our world? The song posits a few reasons: distance; time; lost commonalities; the foolishness of youth. “It’s easy when you’re young not to realize you’re lucky,” McMahon sings at the end of the first verse, and it cuts right to the bone. The chorus only twists the knife: “When the last of your friends are gone/You learn a whole lot about hanging on and on.” It’s not possible to manage the journey from youth to adulthood without losing a few friends along the way. That’s the thing that makes nostalgia so exquisitely painful, because remembering the good times—the misadventures and the music and the moments that are scorched into your brain as if someone branded them there—means remembering the people who were a part of those memories. If you’re lucky, those people are still close enough to call or text, to reminisce. But sometimes the years pile to the point where being the person to break the silence feels like the equivalent of lifting a two-ton weight. How do you make amends for all those wordless years, or all the things you never said to one another? “I wrote it in a letter,” McMahon sings in “House in the Trees,” about the things he never got to say to a long-lost friend; “I’m sure I’ll send it someday.”

    Upside Down Flowers is a record about trying to make sense of the past: of the tears that were in your sister’s eyes as you drove away from one home and toward another; of why we sometimes push away the people that matter most to us; of the decay of time and the things it ruthlessly steals away; and of why we have to discard bits and pieces of our former selves to embrace what comes next. The resulting record is a beautiful symphony about the messiness of life and love and music and connection. It’s a journey wrought with honesty, poignancy, humility, and deep self-reflection. McMahon has rarely been better.

    Bayside 182, anonimito, moura and 2 others like this.
  2. The Black Parade

    Now I Know This World Isn’t Spinning Just For Me Prestigious

    I cannot wait to hear this
  3. Zip It Chris Nov 15, 2018
    (Last edited: Nov 15, 2018)
    Zip It Chris

    Be kind; everyone is on their own journey. Supporter

    I cannot wait for this...I've introduced the next generation to Andrew's genius (made my 9 yr old an all Andrew Apple Music playlist) and it's all he ever listens to. Can't wait to add this album to the mix after purchasing the CD from the local record store and using my keys to aggressively open the packaging while nostalgically driving through the foothills as if it's 2004 starting with track 1 and not going home til it's done...9 yr old jamming in the back of course :).
  4. duritzfan13

    all we have is time

    12 hourssssss
  5. Drew Baldy


    Can't wait to listen to this. Andrew McMahon is the best around.
    anonimito and Bad Frequencies like this.
  6. spencpants

    Can I pet your dog? Prestigious

    This just romanticized the hell out of the album, and I'm excited to listen to it tomorrow.
  7. Great review.

    Great album.
  8. Drew Baldy


    Almost teared up just reading the review. I can only imagine what the actual album will do to me.
    anonimito likes this.
  9. The Black Parade

    Now I Know This World Isn’t Spinning Just For Me Prestigious

    I didn’t think I could be more excited for an album by my favorite song writer but between this review and how you keep praising it, i am all like
  10. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    I'm super psyched for people to finally hear this.
  11. MightyBrian

    This is where I am suppose to write something cool Prestigious

    wow such a awesome write up, can wait to hear on the train to work tomorow
    anonimito likes this.
  12. Mr. Serotonin

    I'm still staring down the sun Prestigious

    I'm so fuckin' pumped for this ESPECIALLY since Butch undoubtedly left his mark on this. What a great pairing.
    KidLightning and anonimito like this.
  13. K0ta

    wrap yourself in petals for armor.

    D:D:D: I have so many feelings already. This man has not done wrong in my 15+ years of being devoted to him and I don't expect that to change, but this line has me feeling nostalgic already. As I enter my 30's in less than a month, I feel like this album will hit home. Thanks for the write up.
    anonimito and Mr. Serotonin like this.
  14. CyberInferno

    Line below my username Supporter

    Very nice review. Super stoked about this album dropping on Friday.
  15. timcsheehan

    Regular Supporter

    forgot this was out tomorrow! my hype level is now +100
  16. Zip It Chris

    Be kind; everyone is on their own journey. Supporter

    Thanks for such a thoughtful write up, I know that's elevated a lot of excitement and I hope Andrew gets a chance to read it :)
    Craig Manning likes this.
  17. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    Hey, thanks! (And I hope so, too.)
    Bad Frequencies likes this.
  18. Reese's Pieces


    Thanks for the great review! Hoping my vinyl gets here tomorrow because I don't think I can wait to hear this.
    Craig Manning and anonimito like this.
  19. SEANoftheDEAD


    Record is phenomenal. This is the record I've been waiting for him to release. "House in the Trees" definitely cuts to the bone.
    Craig Manning and anonimito like this.
  20. SoCoWilderNeSs

    Regular Supporter

    I have a million little thoughts but this record is the type that is going to take a deep dive of many more listens before I can talk about itand be sure of exactly how I feel.

    I will share that as i type this I've had "Penelope" on and it's not the only track that makes me want to close my eyes and take it in like a beautiful lullaby.
    Craig Manning and anonimito like this.
  21. Mr. Serotonin

    I'm still staring down the sun Prestigious

    Blue Vacation was a highlight so far.
    Craig Manning and SEANoftheDEAD like this.
  22. efp722


    Great review. Haven't been super into Andrew's Wilderness era, that said, I am enjoying this release way more than the last two.

    My first impressions after hearing the first two songs- Teenage Rockstars is a great song. Interesting opener though. I had to check my phone to make sure I didn't somehow end up at the last song since this song has such strong closing vibes.
  23. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    Interesting to me that you say this, because it REALLY feels like an opener to me. Especially for how it sets up the themes of the record. I can't really picture it at the end of the record.
  24. gfunk


    He's never put out anything I don't love and this is no different.

    Great write up and agree about House in the Trees being a standout. Also thoroughly enjoyed Everything Must Go, even though all songs with that title are good so I kind of view it as cheating.
    Bad Frequencies likes this.
  25. efp722


    Interesting. Again, just my initial impressions. Might change in later plays.