Recording information: 4th St. Studios, Santa Monica; NRG Studios; Rock Central Studios; Sound City Studios; The Chop Shop; The Jungle Room.
If Andrew McMahon is the Ben Folds of Something Corporate, then his side project Jack's Mannequin is his Fear of Pop, his opportunity to step out of the group and try something different. Except in McMahon's case, it isn't so much fear of pop as much as an embrace of pop, since he sheds the loud guitars and punky overtones of his main band for a sunny, unabashedly tuneful Californian pop on Jack's Mannequin's debut album, Everything in Transit. In truth, it's not all that far removed from his contributions to Something Corporate, which were also tightly written and tuneful, but it sounds truer to his artistic inclinations than either of SC's studio albums, since underneath its guise as a loose concept album about a year of turbulent relationships on Venice Beach, it's a full-blown singer/songwriter piano-pop album. More than ever, on Everything in Transit McMahon sounds like the heir to Ben Folds' wise-ass interpretation of Joe Jackson, but McMahon isn't as cynical or goofy as Folds. His humor is sardonic and low-key, plus he's more concerned with affairs of the heart. Although he relies a little bit too heavily on first-person narratives, he has a keener eye for character and behavior than his emo peers, and he's a better tunesmith, too, not just content to write hooks, but taking the time to let the music build and breathe. With producer Jim Wirt, McMahon has given Everything in Transit an appropriately colorful, even cinematic, scope and, thanks to drums provided by Tommy Lee (who proves here that he's a more versatile drummer than he ever did in Mötley Crüe), it also has strong backbone. So the album has momentum, but it's as sweetly melancholy as a fading summer, yet not nearly as transient as that, either. It really shouldn't work -- it's a conceptual power pop album, delivered by an emo songwriter, backed by an aging metalhead, and co-produced by a guy who gave Hoobastank hits -- but the result is one of the more pleasant surprises of 2005. It's good enough that it makes you hope that McMahon makes Jack's Mannequin his full-time band. [A 10th Anniversary Edition was released in 2015 and added eight bonus tracks.] ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine