There’s an age-old saying: The third time’s the charm. Diehard Jack’s Mannequin fans may at first feel inclined to slightly raise an eyebrow at the band’s third album, “People and Things,” released Tuesday, Oct. 4, but ultimately, they will, in fact, feel its charm.
That said, the new album is not exactly frontman Andrew McMahon’s third release ever. Jack’s Mannequin — which released previous albums “Everything In Transit” in 2005 and “The Glass Passenger” in 2008 — began in 2004 as McMahon’s side project while his other band, Something Corporate, was on hiatus.
Something Corporate never formally re-formed, and Jack’s Mannequin’s albums offered a sound that was completely distinct from Something Corporate — and many other bands. “People and Things” had something truly unique to live up to.
The album maintains Jack’s’ signature style: pop meets rock meets the flowing, belting voice of McMahon, with melodies on guitar and piano. But “People and Things” initially seems lacking in two of the band’s key areas, moving, extended piano solos and tracks of pure lyrical genius.
Instead of mesmerizing piano riffs in every song, “People and Things” offers a few unusual keyboard sounds, bell tones and echo effects. Some tracks seem more lyrically repetitive than brilliant.
In “Hey Hey Hey (We’re All Gonna Die),” McMahon repeats the title twice and calls it a chorus. The opening track “My Racing Thoughts” has a pounding and catchy melody, but the lyrics seem to be no more than what the title suggests.
Repeat listening and reflection, however, reveal “People and Things” is not the work of a weaker Jack’s Mannequin. Just a slightly different one.
In fact, the most apparent feeling expressed through the album is a readiness for change — the band must have experienced as it began to shift from their earlier format to this one.
“Release Me,” for example, has verses featuring an ’80s rock-esque guitar part followed by a bridge and subsequent chorus performed in a completely different meter and key. McMahon’s lyrics almost aggressively highlight the theme of change in this track.
And while McMahon’s lyrics overall may seem more repetitious than desirable, songs like “People, Running” prove this repetition purposeful and even beautiful. Over and over throughout the track, he sings, “We are just these people…” placing an emphasis on the message of the song: Life is better when we stop thinking so much about it and just enjoy it as ordinary people.
The anticipated lyrical talent of McMahon is not lost on this album either. In the slow ballad “Amy, I,” he sings, “So give me a cloud there’s so much at stake / Decided to walk, there was ice on the lake / Though I never worry ’cause it never breaks / Though I hear it cracking under my weight.”
His piano-playing may be featured less overall, but where it’s still prominent, especially in the tracks “Amelia Jean,” “Casting Lines” and “Hostage,” it positively shines. Every chord of every melody feels inspiring.
Also true to Jack’s Mannequin’s classic pattern is the variability of tracks on the album. While one may feature big, bold drums to drive a strong and upbeat melody, the next may feature gentle and delicate acoustics to convey a slow and quiet ballad.
“Restless Dream” is one such intimate, cozy campfire-song-type lullaby, consisting only of the sounds of McMahon’s voice, acoustic guitar and a few orchestral strings.
Listening to a Jack’s Mannequin album is like taking a glimpse at life through McMahon’s unique, multifaceted lens — and it’s an inescapably beautiful view. “People and Things” is no different, though it may take more than just one listen-through to be appreciated. So put that eyebrow down. Embrace the change.