A few frightening phrases which could be used to accurately describe Everything in Transit:
1. “Something Corporate side project”
2. “features Tommy Lee”
3. “emo-pop concept album”
Thankfully, it ain’t that bad. In fact, it’s pretty solid, which makes for a pleasant surprise; as the voice of Something Corporate, Andrew McMahon’s keening whine can be difficult to take in large doses. But here’s the difference: Where Something Corporate makes a show of being a pop-punk band (think music for people who think A New Found Glory is too loud), McMahon abandons all such pretenses here, and in the process, plays more directly to his strengths as a singer and a songwriter.
Yeah, there’s the typical “emo” bullshit — heart-on-sleeve lyrics, taken to the extreme; high-pitched screaming; giant heaps of melodrama — but McMahon’s a really talented songwriter, and his way with sticky pop hooks elevates the material above the fray. More than anything, it’s just a really enjoyable pop album, heavy on bright, tasteful piano and ringing guitars. I read a lot of Ben Folds comparisons, but I think that has more to do with the fact that both McMahon and Folds play the piano than any similarities between their music. Folds is a pop classicist whose eclecticism and gift for wandering narrative hearkens back to the Brill Building, as filtered through an Elton John/Billy Joel lens. McMahon, on the other hand, is all first-person stories about windswept loves and rain-soaked goodbyes — if he’d been born a few decades earlier, he’d be Stephen Bishop.
That isn’t so bad — and hey, “On and On” is still a pretty great song — but for the second time in two weeks, I find myself marveling at how a genre that goes by one name (in this case, “emo-pop”) is really nothing more than a slightly scuffed-up replica of something else that everybody claims to hate (in this case, ’70s MOR mellow gold). Also, if Andrew McMahon = Stephen Bishop, does that mean Death Cab for Cutie = Air Supply?