By: Alyssa Murphree, February 15, 2017
From his early 2000’s punk bands Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin to his synth heavy, and then ambient solo project, new music from the piano-pounding, pop rock wildcard Andrew McMahon is always a treat.
Released February 10, this is McMahon’s second full length album under the moniker Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. While many of this California dweller’s previous albums have naturally had a west coast vibe to them, this one is strictly inspired by New York City, paying homage to its landscape and lifestyle through lyrics and rhythm. For McMahon, writing the album in and about this city was a journey of self-reflection and finding peace, as it is where he was diagnosed with leukemia a little over ten years ago.
Describing the album, McMahon says:
I wrote this album in the middle of a whirlwind, when the future was unclear. Isn’t it always? I found my way to the city, thinking I could settle a score with a ghost. You can’t, so I came home and rewrote the ending.
What I found; I have always been two people; One in search of peace and the other in search of whatever makes my hair stand up and my heart beat faster. This record is mostly about the latter.
The album opens with the upbeat, pseudo-rap track “Brooklyn, You’re Killing Me”. Knowing where the song is distinctly set allows you to visualize the colorful, dynamic streets of Brooklyn while listening. This drum heavy track is more intense than other songs McMahon has released in recent years, but it is welcomed nonetheless. The energy of this song has the capability to transport you to the fast-paced city through your headphones.
The first single from this album, “Fire Escape”, is an upbeat depiction of nightlife shenanigans cleverly disguised as a modern-day love song. With lyrics such as “let’s hang an anchor from the sun” and “we’ll be going strong with the vampires, baby”, it’s clear that this is a night with someone he loves that McMahon never wants to end. The symbolism of the line “swinging from the fire escape” represents the recklessness of youth that one can gather from the cheerful tambourine and backing vocals of the song.
As the album progresses, slowly mellowing out and becoming deeper in terms of theme, we reach the song “Walking in My Sleep”. As the title might suggest, this track is very dream-like; full of meaning and purpose while also possessing a sense of calm and longing. This song is about McMahon’s constant life on the road and the realization that the life he left behind at home may have moved on without him. The beat of the drums and tambourine mimic marching footsteps in a way that drives this purpose and provides a connection with the title.
We end our journey through New York with the melancholy “Birthday Song”. In the song, McMahon refers to his wife and daughter that he leaves behind while touring and working on his music. This slow, piano laden piece is a somber realization of the sacrifice and pull between family and career while finalizing the process of easing out of the fast-paced city scene we were introduced to at the start of the album. The lyrics “so blow out your candles, it’s better than letting them burn out” provide a dramatic conclusion to this song and the album.
Fans have long awaited the second album of this project following the 2014 release of the Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness self-titled debut album. While Zombies on Broadway has a much more different feeling to it than the first album, it’s familiar in a way. To those well acquainted with McMahon’s previous work, it’s reminiscent of a more mature Jack’s Mannequin album. But as always, it’s McMahon’s charm, relatable lyrics, and musical versatility that keeps us coming back for more.