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Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness – Zombies on Broadway

Discussion in 'Article Discussion' started by Melody Bot, Feb 8, 2017.

  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.

    Andrew McMahon is an artist who has had a very loyal and passionate following for a very long time. Starting with Something Corporate, which offered a piano-led twist on the emo/pop-punk trends of the early 2000s, McMahon has been regarded as a master of melody and a writer capable of churning out fiercely relatable songs. Suffice to say that BuzzFeed hit the nail on the head (for the first and last time) when it labeled “Konstantine” as the emo “Freebird.” When McMahon transitioned his career from Something Corporate into the poppier and more mature Jack’s Mannequin, it was a testament to his talent as a songwriter, his likability as a performer, and the strong personal resonance of his work that just about all of his fans were willing to go along for the ride.

    Since Jack’s Mannequin ended its three-album journey with 2011’s People & Things, McMahon has only gone further down the pop rabbit hole. 2014’s Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness was heavy on synths, big beats, and towering pop hooks. Fittingly, it scored Andrew his first charting single on the Billboard Hot 100. (The song, “Cecilia and the Satellite,” peaked at 96.) The success of “Cecilia” paves the road to Zombies on Broadway, McMahon’s second album under the Wilderness moniker and his purest pop album to date.

    Indeed, Zombies is the kind of record where at least half the songs could have been the lead single. The actual lead single is the luminescent “Fire Escape,” which splits the difference between where McMahon comes from and where he’s going. The intro and verses are backed by tinkling pianos, while the choruses open up into a skyscraping hook, a colossal bass drop, and a “woah-oh” earworm in the backing vocals. It’s among the catchiest songs McMahon has ever written. Similarly massive are “So Close” and “Brooklyn, You’re Killing Me.” The former offers an infectious danceable beat, while the latter pairs spoken word verses with a big shout-along chorus in a way that recalls parts of “I’m Ready,” from Everything in Transit. With songs this big in his back pocket, it’s honestly remarkable that McMahon hasn’t scored more hits throughout his career.

    “Brooklyn, You’re Killing Me,” the album’s proper opener, calls back to Everything in Transit in more ways than just its spoken-word sections. The key line, “I was baptized in your parents’ pool in Southern California, then I fled,” feels like an intentional callback to “Rescued” (“And there this was, hiding at the bottom of your swimming pool, some September”). Transit is a concept record about a summer spent falling in love in California, but by the time “Rescued” rolls around in the tracklist, the summer is over and the romance is coming to a close. The callback to this moment in “Brooklyn” feels particularly apt, as Zombies is McMahon’s New York album, similar to how Transit was his California album.

    On first listen, Zombies on Broadway doesn’t internalize its sense of location quite as masterfully as Everything in Transit did. The sunny hooks, shimmering piano lines, and driving pop-rock atmosphere of Transit made it legitimately sound like a trip down the topsy-turvy sidewalks of Venice Beach. However, reading through the press materials for the record, it becomes easier to see what McMahon was going for with his NYC album. “I’m a person who stays up long and late,” he said. “I love sensory overload and tend to thrive when there’s too much to do. That’s the beauty of New York and the hardest part of being there, since it was difficult for me to turn down any opportunity that might be the next potential source of inspiration.” Zombies captures the sensory overload and late-night atmosphere of a night out on the town in New York City. The arrangements are packed with different sounds, from the glitchy, chopped-up vocal samples of “Don’t Speak for Me (True)” to the euphoric vocal layering of “So Close,” all the way to the ringing roller coaster dreamscapes of album highlight “Walking in My Sleep.” Throughout, the record sounds as big and busy as the big city, which was probably part of the point.

    In making a pure pop album, McMahon also embraces the succinctness of pop music. McMahon has been known to make lengthy albums at previous points in his career, with both Something Corporate’s Leaving Through the Window and Jack’s Mannequin’s The Glass Passenger pushing an hour in length. Zombies on Broadway clocks in at a much leaner 38 minutes. Of the 11 tracks, one is a 30-second intro and one is a big, climactic 5:40 finale. All of the other songs are between three and four minutes. The result is the tightest and most direct album McMahon has ever made, and one of his most cohesive. Side one is all neon-drenched pop alchemy, featuring four of the five pre-release tracks (“Brooklyn, You’re Killing Me,” “Fire Escape,” “So Close,” and “Don’t Speak for Me”), as well as the equally hooky “Dead Man’s Dollar.” These tracks are dense, loud, and fun, clearly aided by the trio of producers (Gregg Wattenberg, Jake Sinclair, and Tommy English) that McMahon had as his partners in crime for this record.

    Side two starts with the whirling synths of “Shot of a Cannon,” but generally hews closer to the earnest, ultra-melodic pop-rock we’ve come to expect from McMahon in the past. If the first half is where Andrew tries out his pop influences and builds the New York theme, then side two is where he focuses in on the other themes of the record: family, love, devotion, and the sense of separation caused by a life lived on the road. “There is something that happens to a person after being gone for a great length from the place they call home,” McMahon wrote when he dropped “Walking in My Sleep,” the album’s strongest track, as a pre-release single. “Once plane rides and hotel nights accumulate, there is a sense that the world has shifted in some imperceivable way. That maybe the people you love and the things that you hope are waiting for you back home have all moved on in your absence.”

    The other songs on the record’s back half also carry this theme, from the Caribbean-flavored “Island Radio,” which mirrors the fear and doubt of “Walking in My Sleep” (“I wish that you were on what I was on/But you were only on my mind”) to “Love and Great Buildings,” which rejects doubt in favor of faith (“The best things are designed to stand the test of time”). Album closer “The Birthday Song,” meanwhile, is a classic song about touring life, delivered as a pep-talk from McMahon to himself. The song is the closest McMahon comes to revisiting the pure piano rock days of Jack’s Mannequin and Something Corporate, with a hair-raising chorus (“It’s not your birthday/This isn’t Mardi Gras either/Tomorrow’s a workday/You’ve got a life and a spaceship to fly/You’ve got a good job/And a beautiful yellow-haired daughter/Come back to Earth, kid/You know you can’t chase the stars under water”) that sees McMahon dealing with the demons of being away from his family for too many days and nights at a time. By the final lines of the song (“So blow out your candles/It’s better than letting them burn out”), McMahon has resigned himself to touring life and the separation it causes. But the haunting and sudden conclusion to the song and the record leave an open-ended tension hanging in the air—something that can’t be resolved in the space of a pop song.

    Of all the artists to rise out of our “scene,” arguably none of them were ever sharper songwriters than Andrew McMahon. Even if you strip away the nostalgia, early McMahon gems like “I Woke up in a Car” and “Hurricane” are classic pop songs with terrific melodies and surprisingly mature lyrics. (McMahon was only 19 years old when Leaving Through the Window came out in 2002.) While some fans will likely react negatively to the heavily synth-infused pop sound of Zombies on Broadway, the truth is that McMahon has always been a pop songwriter. Whether he was channeling the likes of The Beatles, Billy Joel, Elton John, or Tom Petty during the Jack’s Mannequin days or figuring in more modern pop sounds on the first Wilderness record, his music has rarely been something that would sound alien on the radio dial. Frankly, it’s thrilling for him to go all-in and make a big, epic-sounding pop record like Zombies. The production may be more dominant than it has been in the past, but at the core, this album is still made up of songs with very strong melodies and very resonant lyrical themes. At the end of the day, it’s just another sterling chapter in the fascinating, unpredictable, and endlessly rewarding story of Andrew McMahon.

  2. ConArdist

    Subgenres Should Die

    Need this, avoiding the review. My iphone just deleted all my music so FML. I need this album to get my mind off of it.
  3. Great review.
    Craig Manning likes this.
  4. DearCory


    Very good review!

    I've been following Andrew since Something Corporate, and he's easily my all time favorite. I have always loved his albums, but there's something with this one.... this one seems extra special. I can't wait to see where it takes him!
    Craig Manning likes this.
  5. metallikunt

    I'm in love with the ordinary

    Will give this a read over in the morning. Going to bed now. Been looking forward to this album for ages and I've been listening to it ALL day on repeat. Can for sure feel and hear that this is his "New York, EIT follow-up". Definitely worth the wait and does not disappoint!
  6. Kaduck


    Really need to listen to this. SoCo was actually my first concert back around '03. They were the openers for Good Charolette. Oh to be 15 again haha. Happy for the success he's been having and super grateful for all of the music he's blessed my ears with.
    Loki and ConArdist like this.
  7. Mr. Serotonin

    I'm still staring down the sun Prestigious

    That got me even more excited.
    Craig Manning likes this.
  8. efp722


    Excellent review dude.

    Andrew's work hasn't really landed with my since Everything In Transit and The Glass Passenger, but I always look forward to checking out his newest stuff. Looking forward to checking this out.
    ConArdist and Craig Manning like this.
  9. parkerxcore Feb 9, 2017
    (Last edited: Feb 9, 2017)

    Somebody's gonna miss us Supporter

    Andrew is an artist I vowed I would never miss a show unless it's mandatory. Truly one of my all time favorites, and I can't wait for the album to drop. Great review.
    Mr. Serotonin likes this.
  10. Pepetito

    Trusted Supporter

    Love the released songs so far. Cant wait to get the rest of it tomorrow.
    ConArdist likes this.
  11. ConArdist

    Subgenres Should Die

    Pre-ordered on itunes. Nothing but Red Bull until it comes out. I've stayed awake for 48 hours plenty of timiewnfedbfwsncenefflfeiwfjwpfsfmsweoyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy
    Mr. Serotonin likes this.
  12. ConArdist

    Subgenres Should Die

    Which one you like best? I have a strong feeling the six songs we have not heard will hit with a bang. So far, ZoB is something I'd pop in every few weeks while driving.
    Mr. Serotonin likes this.
  13. ConArdist

    Subgenres Should Die

    I try but I can't be that diehard. Now, I know he doesn't choose the routing, but I'm seriously saddened by the latest dates. I know for a fact Andrew loves Colorado(we're California with winter, so duh but no CO this time)Not only does AMITW rule(the whole band), but I love Atlas Genius and a very dear friend of mine is Travis Hawley from Night Riots, also one of my favorite bands. Damn solid openers. Oh, fuck it I have family in Omaha and SLUT, I'm driving out.
    Mr. Serotonin likes this.
  14. ConArdist

    Subgenres Should Die

    Oh my God, I found this! You will easily see me in the yellow shirt w/ my scoliosis in all its glory. Top ten concert ever, been to hundreds.
  15. neo506

    2001-2022 Prestigious

    Even if you strip away the nostalgia, early McMahon gems like “I Woke up in a Car” and “Hurricane” are classic pop songs with terrific melodies and surprisingly mature lyrics.

    FYI: Andrew didn't write Hurricane. That was Josh
    DearCory likes this.
  16. joe.boy.fresh.


    Fantastic review. Can't wait to spin this.
  17. ConArdist

    Subgenres Should Die

    No way! Well, that song's changed forever for me.
    Mr. Serotonin likes this.
  18. Loki

    God of mischief

    Great review. It is almost unfortunate having this and another absolute favorite artist drop so close (Menzingers) because I feel like at any other time they would dominate my listening for quite some time individually.
  19. Craig Manning

    @FurtherFromSky Moderator

    Good catch, I didn't know that.
  20. FTank

    Prestigious Prestigious

    I didn't like Fire Escape or Brooklyn...fingers crossed that I enjoy this album.
  21. ianzandi


    Gunna see him play a record shop show tonight in Long Beach. Super stoked for this album
    Loki likes this.
  22. parkerxcore

    Somebody's gonna miss us Supporter

    Whoa, I haven't heard about this. Do you know what shop & time?
  23. Mr. Serotonin

    I'm still staring down the sun Prestigious

    You know what's another one of his best songs in my opinion? "Me and the Moon" , and he wrote it when he was like 17.
    KidLightning likes this.
  24. twisterman2006

    Trusted Supporter

  25. ianzandi


    Fingerprints tonight @ 7pm! I should specify It's Long Beach, CA not NY. Free show w/preorder of album. They also have Ryan's Adams later this month. It's a small room but they pull the best intimate shows