Jack’s Mannequin – People and Things (2011)

Jack’s Mannequin is really a strange breed of band to me. When you listen to their music, they seem like a band that is cut from the Top 40 cloth and make easy listening songs for the masses. The only catch is that they have never had a song even come close to charting. If you look at the history of their singles, their pride and joy was 2008’s “The Resolution” which forced itself all the way up to 104 on the US Charts (27 on the Alternative charts). Clearly air time does not equate to the quality or success of a band, but when that’s really your milieu, isn’t it a little embarrassing? You make songs that are simple and easy for the radio, but they never get played on the radio? You would hope that, by now, they would veer into something a tad more artistic and stop pandering to their high school fan base, but it’s really more of the same on their third full length album, People and Things.

Sometimes playing it close to your chest can pay off extensively (see Spoon), but this whole album feels like nothing. That may sound a little harsh but I don’t know how else to put it. I never felt moved or challenged in the slightest by any beat, lyric or theme. At the same time, I was never overtly annoyed or disgusted by what they were doing. It is bland in every sense of the word. Honestly, I think that is how they would prefer it. Of course, I feel a little bit of guilt because all of the guys in Jack’s Mannequin seem like good guys… really. Front man, Andrew McMahon, has suffered and recovered from leukemia, and has made endless philanthropic contributions over the years. I don’t know how to come out of this without looking like a bully, but I’m sorry, the music is so sinfully dull that I have to speak out.

The opening track, “My Racing Thoughts,” open with a hint of acoustic strings and what sound like power chords, but it all comes together for a beat that seems like it wishes it was louder. The lyrics do little to spice it up with cliche tropes like, “She went to church but she couldn’t practice what they preached.” It’s beyond soft rock. To even use the term rock to describe them is actually a little bit of an insult to rock musicians. I would describe them as slightly edgier then ABBA but way less hardcore then Third Eye Blind. I don’t even know where to make my comparisons. At times they sound like a homeless man’s U-2 (I guess), such as “Television,” which has choppy guitars and an attempt at epic singing. “Tonight, I’ll sleep with my television on.” Powerful stuff.

The only branching out I saw on the entire album was “Hey Hey Hey (We’re All Gonna Die),” just because it seemed like the only song to acknowledged the existence of challenging material in the realm of art. Saying “we’re all gonna die some day” doesn’t seem like it would be a dark change of pace for most bands, but I assure that you it is as morbid as they are capable of getting. They even seem to do it with an eyes-closed-watch-how-serious-this-is tone to it.

Like I said, though, it’s not like their music is constant crap. He’s not a bad singer and none of the music is repulsive. They churn out the same music with the same beats for eleven tracks and throw in a piano every now and then when they want to be deep. I just have an issue with a band who is so comfortable with mediocrity and producing something with so little diversity. This album is great if you’re looking for songs to play in the background on episodes of One Tree Hill, but from an actual musical standpoint, it’s pretty lifeless.

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