The Glass Passenger

When an artist talks about the music on a forthcoming album before it’s finished, all bets are off as to whether the final product will bear any resemblance to preliminary chatter. Anything can change the direction of a recording-from studio trickery and producer suggestions to label meddling or better creative inspiration. Andrew McMahon of Jack’s Mannequin shared his vision for the group’s sophomore effort with AP last fall-and while his ideas were broad, they were also ambitious. The 25-year-old was listening to Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young and the Byrds and wanted to incorporate elements of those acts atop his skeletal piano demos, while also nodding to Motown and ’60s grooves from legendary producer Phil Spector.

The Glass Passenger is the result of McMahon’s music history crash course-and its lush instrumentation and fleshed-out arrangements realize his lofty goals. Much more complex and sophisticated than Jack’s Mannequin’s 2005 debut Everything In Transit-and even poppier, believe it or not-the 14-song collection demonstrates the synergy between McMahon and his bandmates. His piano often takes second fiddle to other instruments, whether it’s glammy guitars and sly strings (“Bloodshot”) or power-pop nods (the Ben Folds-esque “Drop Out – The So Unknown”). White-hot keyboard licks only occasionally peek through the new-wave guitars on “Suicide Blonde.”

As with Transit, Passenger’s music often feels like the soundtrack to a perfect California day. Riffs reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac (the premier Cali-pop band of the ’70s) flicker through “American Love” and the bass-driven tilt-a-whirl bounce “Spinning.” “Crashing” is the equivalent of driving on the freeway with the wind in your hair, a racing tune with frenetic piano runs and Beach Boys-esque layered harmonies. Highlight “Annie Use Your Telescope” borrows more from that band’s Pet Sounds and is a creative departure for McMahon. Somber and expansive, it unfurls like a slow-motion flower bloom, thanks to harmonies treated with echoing reverb, swirling chords and midnight-hued percussion.

McMahon was also adamant that this album wasn’t going to be a chronicle of his battle with leukemia, and if anything, what stands out on Passenger is the dogged optimism found within its lyrics. Instead of wallowing in uncertainty or sounding upset, McMahon addresses obstacles from the perspective of faith and hope-just as he did when fighting cancer. The trembling, classical-like “Caves”-a sparse, painfully vulnerable song written during his hospital stays-is immediately preceded by “The Resolution,” a Bruce Hornsby homage where he exclaims, “I’m alive, but I don’t need a witness to know that I survived.”

Even if McMahon’s inspirations (lyrical and otherwise) are transparent on Passenger, the execution of his influences is impeccable. One doesn’t have to know McMahon’s back stories or relationship status to relate to and resonate with his music-and that’s what makes The Glass Passenger a fantastic, special album.

1. Crashing
2. Spinning
3. Swim
4. American Love
5. What Gets You Off
6. Suicide Blonde
7. Annie Use Your Telescope
8. Bloodshot
9. Hammers and Strings (A Lullaby)
10. Drop Out – The So Unknown
11. Orphans
12. The Resolution
13. Caves
14. Miss California

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