Rediscovering ‘People and Things’

There’s something very satisfying about returning to an album you didn’t like when it was released and discovering that it’s actually pretty great. Whether it’s due to changing tastes, distance from the expectations and excitement of the release cycle, or a new perspective on life, you’re able to find value in something you dismissed before. You wonder how you didn’t see it in the first place. You get to say “I told you so” to yourself.

I had that experience yesterday with the third Jack’s Mannequin record, People and Things.

Like nearly everyone else I know, I adore Andrew McMahon’s first release as Jack’s Mannequin. Everything In Transit is a perfect union of powerful songwriting and pop sensibilities, and songs like “Dark Blue” and “Holiday From Real” will be mix CD (or playlist) staples for generations to come. McMahon started to lose me on The Glass Passenger. I could never pinpoint what I didn’t like about the project’s sophomore album, but it never resonated with me like McMahon’s previous work. When People and Things was released in 2011, however, I hated it, and I knew exactly why.

To understand such a strong, negative reaction to the artist who wrote “Konstantine,” one needs only a cursory glance at my music taste in 2011. Pop punk dominated the year for me, with new releases from The Wonder Years, The Swellers, Man Overboard, Transit, and The Story So Far forming the vast majority of my listening. I wanted personal and passionately delivered (read: yelled) lyrics over fast and loud music. Sure, there was some indie-folk as well, but if the electronic elements in a song extended beyond the occasional synth line, I probably wanted nothing to do with it.

While I was diving deeper into punk and its related sub-genres, Andrew McMahon was pushing the pop side of Jack’s Mannequin harder than ever. People and Things is a shiny album. The arrangements sparkle with synth lines, strings, and other flourishes, and the eighties influence is palpable throughout. In other words, it was everything I didn’t want to hear in October of 2011.

A lot has changed in the last three years. Four months after People and Things left my iPod with barely a second play, Fun. released Some Nights, an even more unashamedly pop record, and I loved it. Fast forward another year and a half, and I’m hooked on The 1975. Then there was Bleachers, then Smallpools, then Andrew McMahon’s solo album.

The last entry in that list is what finally made me revisit People and Things. Following the retirement of Jack’s Mannequin in 2012, McMahon adopted the moniker Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness and released the most electronic, synthesizer-heavy record of his career. On paper, I should hate songs like “See Her On the Weekend” and “Cecilia and the Satellite,” but I can’t get enough of them. I saw a few people calling it a continuation of People and Things, and after playing the latter a few times today, I agree wholeheartedly. In a way, it’s like a circle completing. I understand exactly why I didn’t like People and Things when it was released, but my changing tastes led me back to it at a time when I could appreciate it for what it is.

It would be easy to write all of this off by saying, “Oh yeah, everybody’s tastes change over time,” but I want to dig deeper than that. In some ways, my tastes haven’t changed at all – I still listen to new pop punk albums every week – but they certainly have expanded. From the pop records mentioned previously to the alt-country of Jason Isbell and Cory Branan (but never, ever pop-country), my iPod is full of albums that I would have scoffed at just a few years ago. It’s a trajectory that reflects (in my mind, at least) a slow realization that the kind of songwriting I value most can and does exist outside of the confines of two guitars, bass, and drums played at maximum volume.

It makes me wonder what else I’ve missed.

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