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As Andrew McMahon mends, his music ascends - Jack's Mannequin Times

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Previous Entry As Andrew McMahon mends, his music ascends Aug. 29th, 2005 @ 06:23 pm Next Entry
Here's a really good article from an Orange County publication, from Aug 29, 2005

By now, I assume you're aware of Andrew McMahon's ordeal. To summarize: piano- pounding frontman of popular Orange County, Calif., outfit Something Corporate takes a break to indulge a side project, dubbed Jack's Mannequin, only to learn _ on the day he completes work on this breakthrough _ that he has acute lymphatic leukemia.
He's hospitalized immediately and over the course of the next two months undergoes enough chemotherapy to beat his cancer into remission. His gaunt appearance belying his indefatigable spirit, he received a bone-marrow transplant this week; his sister was a rare perfect match. Doctors expect a full recovery.
That makes this past Tuesday, when the Jack's Mannequin disc, "Everything in Transit," was released as McMahon headed into surgery, "definitely the most important day of his life," says producer Jim Wirt, who has worked with the singer-songwriter since the start of Something Corporate.
Wirt intends as much emphasis on McMahon's new music as on what should be a life-saving operation. See, "Everything in Transit," which took close to a year for McMahon to create with help from multi-instrumentalist Patrick Warren and occasional drum work from Tommy Lee (yes, that Tommy Lee), is the big leap forward that many suspected McMahon had in him.
Circumstances surrounding the set make it easy to figure a critic's faculties are clouded, when, as McMahon's mother, Lin, insists, "This new album should be evaluated honestly, regardless of what's going on."
Believe me, then, when I say that even if McMahon were fit as a fiddle I'd still praise "Transit" as catapulting him out of the stifling punk-pop pit and up near the level of one of his heroes, Ben Folds.
No, it isn't quite as striking as Folds' best. Yes, McMahon still needs to do something about his nasal whine, though that could just be a pet peeve that fans closer to his age believe signifies earnestness.
But just listen to what he has accomplished. Those melancholy melodies conveying eerily prophetic lyrics of genuine soul-searching. Those bittersweet Beach Boys harmonies bolstering songs like "La La Lie." The shift away from emo formula and toward complex constructions drawing together elements of power-pop, Billy Joel and even New Order.
Or consider the disc's concept itself, a song cycle about a crumbling relationship, empty time spent apart and ultimately a reconciliation, in the eight-minute, multipart closer "Made for Each Other."
That last part is steeped in truth. When McMahon finally came off the road after five years of touring with Something Corporate, he felt alienated and confused, unsure of himself and where things were headed with his girlfriend, who he had been with since just after high school.
"I just knew I needed some time to sort my head out and for the first time be accountable only to myself. That's what this is about: Here I am, just me, stripped to nothing, learning what's important."
"It's the result of a natural progress that all young songwriters go through," says Wirt, also known for producing Hoobastank. "Look at the Beatles. They started with 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' and 'Love Me Do,' but when they were pushing on to 25, they were writing 'Eleanor Rigby' and 'In My Life.' That's the human maturation process. Andrew's only 22, and he's already reaching a higher level."
Indeed, despite its minor flaws, "Transit" establishes McMahon as a strong new pop force, one now seemingly capable of expanding Something Corporate beyond its narrow parameters. Yet I wonder if enough people will hear the album, or whether it's doomed to become a cult item.
Why not, I asked McMahon, hold off its release until he's better able to promote it?
"There's no certainty to the next couple of years," he replied. "This music is so relevant to what's happening to me, and I had made fans of what I do wait so long for something new that I didn't think it was fair to make them wait any longer."
He likely will be homebound for the next year, recuperating, though he hopes he'll be able to play small shows by December. "But people are paying attention now. And I want to put out a record when people are paying attention, because that's when it has the best chance of being heard."
And where does that leave Something Corporate? On hold yet eager to re-enter the studio and progress.
"It's scary right now," says guitarist Josh Partington, who has kept himself busy with his own project, Firescape. "Some of us felt like we're in limbo. What's gonna happen beyond this? He could come out of this and say, 'I don't want Something Corporate anymore. It's not where my heart is.' I hope that's not the case, but he's looking death in the eye. That can change your priorities."
For his part, McMahon says his allegiance is unwavering. "We will make another record. We just needed new inspirations, and everyone in general was ready to take a break. But now we're tighter than ever."
Partington says McMahon's optimism has him feeling confident about the future as well.
"I know Andrew's going to come out of this with an album about healing, about learning what's really important in life. I think it'll be something that will make people say, 'I listen to that, and I have hope.'"
Ben Wener: bwener@ocregister.com
The Orange County Register (California)

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