The piano-rock group from Orange County began as a side project by Something Corporate singer/pianist Andrew McMahon in 2004, yet their debut Everything in Transit made a serious splash, reaching the Top 40 charts. But McMahon couldn’t enjoy his success, as he was soon diagnosed with leukemia (even having to cancel the Everything in Transit tour). One bone marrow transplant later, McMahon and Jack’s Mannequin are back with The Glass Passenger, which can dip into maudlin emo territory, but also surprises in its winning nature.
“Crashin” opens Passenger in a style reminiscent of eighties piano-pop/rock, influenced by the nighttime drives in Los Angeles that seemed to be ubiquitous in that decade. Yet it is enjoyable, and grows well; Jack’s Mannequin deliver many tracks on Passenger that even the most jaded of indie-rock hipsters can’t help but enjoy – and even be moved by. That is more the case on the second half of the record, with the stand out clearly being single “The Resolution”, whose grand nature sums up everything that is right about this record. “Drop Out – The So Unknown” is expansive and effective, but even seemingly overbearing numbers like the piano-torch “Hammers and Strings (A Lullaby)”, aren’t nearly as cheesy as they would first appear.
However, at fourteen tracks, Passenger was bound to have some overwrought pieces. It starts with the somewhat banal “Swim” and the simplistic (but at least hook-y) “American Love”. McMahon’s emo-piano still owes more to the heartbreak of the eighties than of today, making even lesser songs like the over-orchestral “Annie Use Your Telescope” and the somewhat forgettable “Orphans” at least not something you hear every day.
Jack’s Mannequin is still a young band, and Passenger has a few pieces that show promise, but also flaws. The emotional “Spinning” is done fairly well, but the synth touches are unnecessary. “What Gets You Off” starts pleading, but improves as it goes along and gets a swing. The verse in “Bloodshot” is too ‘trying to be tough’, but its chorus has a great pressing beat and effect. Pseudo-finisher “Caves” is some overwrought, over-aching piano in its first half, but then gets far better when guitars enter in the second. The band also doesn’t have to rely upon McMahon’s feelings: middle number “Suicide Blonde” (ironically maybe the least downbeat number on Passenger) has a catchy, rockin’ rhythm, while hidden track “Miss California” might be the record’s best, this side of “The Resolution”, with its hook-laden, grand upswing pop/rock (making it the hidden track – after the seven-and-a-half minute “Caves” – also wasn’t a wise move).
But Jack’s Mannequin’s grounding in McMahon’s emotions is natural, given what had transpired since Everything in Transit – and The Glass Passenger naturally has more emotional weight because of it. Usually, one has to look to the U.K. for this kind of young piano-rock to be done well (see Air Traffic – QRO live review), but it seems to be growing in Orange County as well.