Mosaic / Reviews / February 15, 2017

Andrew McMahon succeeds with new sound

(Dan Perez/TKS)

Andrew McMahon has had an extensive musical career. From his early days in the SoCal pop-rock scene to his newly established and matured sense of radio pop, he’s dabbled in a bit of everything. “Zombies on Broadway” sees him attempt at extending his newly formed sound off of his debut self-titled record. The final product, however, may have lost more than it gained through this test.

Any longtime fan of McMahon knows his love for the California scene. “Zombies” pays tribute to this with the opening track set in a brief moment in time, mixed with bustling sounds of a city street and various honks and chimes of everyday life. It’s a nice nod to his roots and is surely a welcome sound to an otherwise unfamiliar record. The track bleeds into “Brooklyn, You’re Killing Me,” one of the best songs on the album. The sporadic nature of McMahon saying “Just let me think” to himself brings an atmosphere of unease to this chaotic and messy track. The chorus is fast and punchy, while the verses groove on a free-flow tempo. It’s a testament to much of his early work and is a great listen. Other notable tracks on the record include “Fire Escape,” a classic piano track that one would come to expect from McMahon, and “Walking in My Sleep,” an uplifting and inspirational ballad full of powerful vocal lines and a steady backbeat. Even “Shot Out of a Cannon,” a catchy, dance track that sounds like nothing McMahon has released before, fits in nicely amongst the chaos.

However, even with the experimentation and venture into new territory noted, there is one critical and harshly shining flaw to much of the record. There is a consistent and deep lack of real instrumentation. Coming from earlier projects such as “Something Corporate” and “Jack’s Mannequin,” both heavily influenced by piano-rock, this new sound of electro-pop isn’t always wrapped in a nice bow. “So Close” feels empty amongst the electric pulsing and steady bass in the background. Even it’s chorus can’t redeem it from falling a bit vacant amongst the remainder of the music found on the record. The weakest track on the album, “Don’t Speak for Me,” finds McMahon completely out of his element. The production is shallow and uninspired, especially in the cheesy vocal editing in the chorus. Coming from a career with real grit and passion in his lyrical work, this track is off putting.

The remainder of the record has some middle-ground tracks with a few exceptions. “Dead Man’s Dollar” has some much needed piano work riddled throughout with passionate lyrics that work well with the triumphant instrumentation. “Island Radio” is a goofy, slow-burn track that doesn’t stand out much, but has its moments. The hard-grooved chorus is curious in nature, but the song relies on it too much. “Love and Great Buildings” will be a crowd pleaser played live, with its easily hit vocal range and the power-anthem esque chord structure.

This all leads to an unfortunately sad moment on the record’s final track, “Birthday Song.” It opens with a gorgeous piano melody and vocal verse that is reminiscent of McMahon’s early work, and continues to appeal to this nostalgia all the way through. The lyrical movements through his life and raising his daughter are beautiful, but the track leaves the record with a note of longing. The mix of old and new will leave new fans with a taste of what this man has been able to create over the 15 plus years, while leaving old fans with an emptiness. An emptiness of knowing that they may never hear the old Andrew McMahon again, and can only hope that he never loses his footing as he so closely did on “Zombies on Broadway.”

Rating:

7.5/10

Mitch Prentice
Mitch Prentice graduated in 2017, majoring in creative writing and minoring in journalism. He volunteered for TKS his sophomore and junior year, and worked as Mosaic Editor his senior year. He has interned alongside Greg Kot at the Chicago Tribune and runs his own website.

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1 Comment

Feb 16, 2017

The title of this article is that he succeeds with his new sound, yet your critique is that he generally does not succeed with his new sound. That’s very confusing.

The intro track, “Zombies,” is absolutely not a tribute to Caifornia like you said. New York was the clear inspiration for this album and while he’s always been rooted in California, NY was the push behind this body of work. The sounds recorded were sounds of the city.

Lastly, I disagree with your take on “Birthday Song.” This was written when McMahon returned home to California from New York and he showed that he’s the same guy he’s always been, just in a different phase of life. The lyrics are more about adulthood and responsibility than anything else and it brings closure to both his life and this record in my opinion. The record, like his life, is upbeat and fun, but at the end of the day, it’s his family that means the most to him and the last track was critical in completing this album’s story. So I don’t see this as emptiness at all. If anything, it shows us we’ll always have the same musician.



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