Fans hooked by the first Jack’s Mannequin record, 2005’s Everything In Transit, can collectively rejoice: after a shift from effervescent, sun-kissed piano-pop to artful, introspective songwriting on the group’s second album, The Glass Passenger, Jack’s are back with a new record and a new outlook.
Of course, Jack’s Mannequin figurehead and Something Corporate ex-pat Andrew McMahon was well within his rights to craft a weighty, introspective album: The Glass Passenger chronicled his much-publicized battle with leukemia, which allows any singer-songwriter at least one album of comparatively somber material, according to the rules of pop music. And while Glass Passenger was perhaps the more technically accomplished of Jack’s first two albums, McMahon returns to the bouncier aesthetic of Transit with People and Things. The result is, perhaps predictably, bound to be one of the hookiest records of 2011.
Make no mistake, neophytes: Jack’s Mannequin are far from an innovative band. In terms of piano-led artists, they possess neither the weirdness of Tori Amos or the caustic wit of Ben Folds. They hew closer to the All-American Rejects model: sprightly melodies that rarely break the mold, two primary speeds (uptempo and mid-tempo), infectious earnestness. As decorated by McMahon’s rollicking key-pounding, though, the Jack’s template is uniquely pleasing to the ears; album opener and first single “My Racing Thoughts” is a propulsive, addictive pop song with a love-drunk lead vocal and a hook that burrows into the brain right from jump street. “Hostage” and “Release Me” follow this model; Jack’s slow things down, too, with the likes of the resplendent, winking “Hey Hey Hey (We’re All Gonna Die)” and the sweet, acoustic guitar-based “Restless Dream”, but for the most part, the band isn’t interested in sonic diversity here.
Which, to be clear, is fine. What Jack’s Mannequin lack in adventure, they more than make up for in pure ebullience, sincerity, and delicious pop hooks. That’s always, to some degree, been the case; however, there are tiny, exploratory flourishes on People and Things that tantalize the prospect of a more varied Jack’s Mannequin. There’s a faint synth line burbling underneath the otherwise straightforward rock of “My Racing Thoughts” that teases an even poppier Jack’s Mannequin, certainly an interesting proposition; and the violin that floats throughout the background of “Restless Dream” hints at some colors of Americana popping up on future Jack’s releases, another potential intriguing direction for the band. Jack’s Mannequin don’t, at their core, need the experimentation to remain vital; they’re spirited enough to pull off their particular brand of piano-rock without needing bells and whistles. But they are three albums in now, and they haven’t varied their signature sound any. In order to ensure that future records attain essential status, they may want to break up the formula a bit.
But that’s neither here nor there. As it stands, Jack’s Mannequin are peddling excellent, expertly-written pop treatises about being in love and being on the road, and People and Things highlights what they do best. It’s nice to hear Andrew McMahon back in a good mood, and to see him in good health; it’s nice, too, to have a new set of rollicking melodies to hit the highway to, and at that, Jack’s Mannequin don’t disappoint.