Andrew McMahon has always made storytelling music. Whether it was his first successful punk band out of high school (Something Corporate), his newfound pop/rock solo project attributed to his cancer battle (Jack’s Mannequin), or his newer In The Wilderness solo albums, there is not a single bad song that McMahon has written.
Despite the nature of 2017’s Zombies On Broadway – McMahon’s most pop-centric album to date – the majority of the tracks on the album did quite well. The album didn’t perform as well as the project’s 2014 self-titled debut, but in Upside Down Flowers, McMahon has created a near-opposite follow-up to the previous albums, and instead of honing in on pop melodies, synthesizers, and big production, McMahon is seen here writing songs wrought with nostalgia. His sound is much closer to the days of The Glass Passenger in Jack’s Mannequin’s story, with stadium anthems featuring McMahon’s piano, his fingers, booming baselines, energetic acoustic guitar, and at least one emotional electric guitar solo.
Upside Down Flowers contains some of McMahon’s best material. “Teenage Rockstars” recollects his feelings and emotions from his Something Corporate days; “Ohio” follows his journey through his family’s move from the middle of the midwest to the sunny state of California; “Paper Rain” is one of McMahon’s most universal songs to date – a comeback single that swallows his music’s best qualities and feels very new; “This Wild Ride” is a letter to McMahon’s grandmother, a song he wrote and played for her the day she passed; “Goodnight, Rock and Roll” is song that pays respects to some of the genre’s recently departed; “House in the Trees” is arguably one of McMahon’s best songs, though its sort of hidden towards the back-end of the album; “Everything Must Go” is a towering conclusion confronting death head-on.
McMahon’s third In The Wilderness release is definitely impressive. He’s always told a story of the past, but has never been this outward about it. Upside Down Flowers is a record about reflecting on the past; it’s about trying to make sense of the tears in your sister’s eyes as you drove away from home and toward another; it’s about understanding that sometimes we have to shed bits and pieces of ourselves to prepare for what comes next; it’s an album about trying to be better than who you were before. The end-result is an album rendered with brutal honesty and dug-in, deep self-reflection. McMahon’s stories feel open, as if they aren’t stories at all. They feel real.