Benjamin Wood
October 04, 2011 AT 05:26 PM EDT

Full disclosure: I’m a big Jack’s Mannequin fan. Without going into too much personal detail, the Orange County band (a side project turned full gig by former Something Corporate frontman and piano balladeer Andrew McMahon) has always seemed to release an album that coincides with big transitions in my life. When Everything in Transit dropped in August 2005, I was stuffing everything I owned into a Chevy Cavalier and moving away from home for the first time. In September 2008, The Glass Passenger was the soundtrack of my return to the U.S. after studying abroad. Fitting, then, that JM’s new album, People & Things — released today — drops right after I make my way to New York City.

I remember the first time I saw Jack’s Mannequin live. It was 2006 and McMahon announced to the crowd that it had been exactly one year since he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The 2nd album arrived two years later and it was clear that his experience battling the disease had infused his music with a reflective intensity.

From a comparison of sound, People & Things lands closer to The Glass Passenger than the band’s debut album. While “Amelia Jean” has a certain “Miss Delaney” vibe to it, other songs seem like cut-and-dry Passenger 2.0. The album keeps the beat mostly up-tempo, but McMahon slows it down for “Hey Hey Hey,” a piano-heavy track that name-drops Passenger directly. “So keep your eyes on the road on the glass passenger/ I’ve returned to the scene of the crime/ With my bus and my band I am taking a stand/ So sing with me just one more time.” In “People, Running” the band slips in a chorus line that’s ripped straight out of Passenger‘s “Crashin.”

A few tracks surprised me in a good way. The guitar-only “Restless Dream” brought Fleetwood Mac to mind. Likewise, “Release Me” and “Platform Fire” reminded me, respectively, of Foreigner and Counting Crows circa August and Everything After. The album’s debut single “My Racing Thoughts” wouldn’t be my pick of the litter, but seemed right in line with the group’s former radio hits like “The Mixed Tape” and “The Resolution.”

But if you, like me, were hoping for another piano lullaby a la “Hammers and Strings,” you won’t get it here. “Hey Hey Hey” comes close but doesn’t quite have me itching to learn it on the ivories. Overall, People & Things doesn’t shine the spotlight as brightly on the piano lines which, depending on your tastes, could be a good or bad thing (for the record, bad for me). Also mysteriously absent is the typical McMahon eight-minute-plus opus like Passenger’s “Caves,” Transit‘s “MFEO” or “Konstantine” from the Something Corporate days. Those tracks were some of my favorites and I was sad to see that everything on the album clocks in at a radio friendly 4:27 or less.

What did you think? Do you like the direction the band is going in? If you haven’t heard it yet you can listen to an exclusive stream of “Television” here.


Hear Jack’s Mannequin’s new song ‘Television’: An EW EXCLUSIVE

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