I will go ahead and admit that Jack’s Mannequin has become a guilty pleasure album.
I will not be starting up a conversation at the pub with the boys by throwing out the line “So I picked up that solo album by the guy from Something Corporate. It’s pretty good. You gonna finish those hot wings?” Neither will I be adding it to any Top 10 lists at the end of year, because disclaimers that begin with “Now, before you dump my books and give me a wedgie, I just want to make one thing clear…” are usually best left unsaid. Such is the fate of the guilty pleasure; to be downplayed in public, but enjoyed in private.
When Something Corporate began their musical journey, they were doing so with drivers licenses that were still more or less freshly non-faked. And the music reflected both the energy and naivete of their youth. It was decent enough, but the obvious genre posturing they offered, coupled with some less-than-mature theme choices for songs, made it difficult for too many people already out of high school to take it that seriously. Fortunately for everyone, their first proper album, Leaving Through The Window improved significantly the pop-punk tunes they seemed determined to make. And the emphasis on leader Andrew McMahon’s piano playing gave them a unique enough edge to stand out and attract some attention.
Then North came along, and was easily a more consistent and mature release. They proved themselves able to turn out something deeper than just the requisite two radio singles.
And because of their catchy tunes, all the kids cheered. And because the kids cheered, the band kept playing a lot of shows. And then the kids cheered some more. And the band kept playing those shows. And then they stopped touring long enough to take a bathroom break and stock up on some Red Bull. And then Andrew and his girlfriend broke up. And then he did what we all do in our post-girlfriend wallowing: he wrote a whole album and released it to the world.
I say all this flippantly because… well, because that’s kind of how it happened and it makes me look like I did a little research for this here review. But the other reason is because I can’t, for the life of me, figure out how all of that stuff could combine to help a person make an album that is noticeably better than his main band’s output.
Everything In Transit could be seen as the logical progression of Something Corporate, but it’s easily much more than that. Side projects generally have a strike against them from the start, at least in terms of exposure to the masses vs. the hardcore fans who probably knew about it even before the label did. To lump this into just a side project category would do it a considerable disservice. Overall, the songs are much catchier, much more consistent, and almost (well… almost) less laden with youthful lyrical meanderings. It’s the love child of Green Day and Ben Folds. It’s pop-punk with a polished edge that not only is aware of its given genre, but mature enough to incorporate influences without just copying them.
I don’t want to get too minute and surgical with some trying-to-impress musical dissection. I’ll leave those reviews to publications staffed by people who have long forgotten that rock music was kind of trying to get away from that in the first place. Because here’s the honest truth about how I feel about this record. On the one hand, I try not to listen to the lyrics too much. They still sound like they were penned by some guy hanging out in the mall, trying to be poetic on a napkin from Orange Julius. To him I can only say “Yeah, dude, I hear ya on the girl front. I heard you on track 2. And track 3. And yeah, on the other tracks as well. Buck up.” But on the other hand, I love the fact that it’s by Jack’s Mannequin and not Something Corporate. I might be embarrassed to put the latter on my iPod and show it to friends. My oh-so-trendy friends with Diesel on speed dial.
Whereas, Jack’s Mannequin…that’s a fresh start that carries considerably less baggage. It’s stylistically close enough that it could have passed for the main band’s next effort (and I’m not privy to all the details on why it’s not). But you shouldn’t care, because the point is that these are surprisingly well-crafted songs. Almost every song is good. Damn good. They’re catchy, but in a good way (not the Hilary Duff way, because… well, because that would be bad). It’s a fresh start for Andrew to get over his girlfriend. And it’s a fresh chance for you to listen to music that is safely more fun than the job for which it should be the commute soundtrack.
(Just as an update, I checked Something Corporate’s website and saw that Andrew is being treated for a strain of leukemia. The news appears to be a few months old, but we wish Andrew the best for a speedy recovery.)