Producer: Gregg Wattenberg, Derek Fuhrmann
Release Date: February 10, 2017
Andrew McMahon is a Massachusetts-born singer-songwriter who has been the piano-playing frontman of various alternative bands of low-to-moderate success like Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin. In 2014 he released his first solo album under the moniker Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, which was a catchy compilation of piano-driven pop anthems, coupled with lyrics about relatably self-aware introspection. I wasn’t crazy on the album, but I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would based on my experience with his previous bands.
I was cautiously optimistic when I first set out to listen Zombies on Broadway, McMahon’s sophomore studio record. As the title of the album would hint, the album was recorded in New York, and numerous lyrics reference the city in one way or another. McMahon himself claimed that he has “expanded the palette” on the album, and that it would feature “a lot more guitar work”. The first single “Fire Escape” displays that fortunately he has not overdone either: the guitar and the other components of the “expanded palette” do not overshadow the keyboards. However, it shifts McMahon’s sound from the previous album’s somewhat distinctive ‘piano pop’ to just ‘pop’, and suddenly, his material just doesn’t pop quite enough to rise up from the sea of dull, formulaic adult alternative already out there. The polished production combined with the uninventive instrumentation doesn’t leave a whole lot for the listener to latch onto. Large number of the songs are just bombastic choruses that don’t leave any sort of lasting impact: after dozens of listens through the album the only song I actually can recall is “Fire Escape”, and I’m pretty sure that’s only because I’ve had the time to listen to the song since it was first released in last September.
On the lyrical side of things the album fares a bit better: while McMahon sometimes falls into using some tired cliches and overused metaphors in his work, he’s a seasoned enough songwriter to avoid the largest pitfalls, and is able to recreate a lot of the intimate themes and ruminations of his debut album. Unfortunately even the more gripping subjects and elaborate vignettes are all tackled in a similar, radio-friendly manner, which leaves the listener baffled by why the tragic tale of wandering the world without a place to call home is thoroughly peppered with percussive synth-handclaps.
Zombies on Broadway is a prime example of that artificially recreating the circumstances of your success does not always guarantee a second one: while the album lyrically captures a lot of the moods and themes that made In the Wilderness good, the overproduced, run-of-the-mill packaging of Broadway makes it much harder to appreciate, and sometimes even remember.