95. Song Nos. 1,167 and 1,168: “Bloodshot,” Jack’s Mannequin
The Ghost Overground – EP, 2008; The Glass Passenger, 2008
Like a probably telling amount of many other bands, there is something inherently melancholy about Jack’s Mannequin/any post-Something Corporate Andrew McMahon project (for all of which Jack’s Mannequin will serve as a succinct stand-in here), no matter how much they and he can earnestly rock out, deliver some dazzlingly warm lyrics and produce so many songs that sound like personal anthems.
While some of that unshakably lingering sadness is purely personal — and it’s definitely a contributing factor here, too — I think this is one of those times when external forces become intrinsically intertwined with the art, too.
I don’t know if it’s my own projection or transference or whatever, or if it’s McMahon’s symbolically mature shift from an emo/pop-punk band to a solo artist, but even with the creation of Everything in Transit (the earliest of the bunch, and the first album from the side-project-cum-solo-act Jack’s Mannequin) predating McMahon’s diagnosis of and battle with leukemia, everything after Something Corporate sounds so much more significant and sung from the highest highs and wailed from the lowest lows than your standard heartbroken/pining/recklessly smitten emo and genre-adjacent fare. Sure, matters of the heart make great lyrical fodder and I think those feelings account for most of the music I love, but there’s just something more significant and immediate and raw when matters of life and death and next-level adult issues invite themselves to the party. And I think Jack’s Mannequin navigates that labyrinth of lived-in lows and their accompanying unassailable optimism (or at least peaceful acceptance) better than most.
Still, there are traces of youthful angst meandering through the ntirety of McMahon’s oeuvre, and especially the refrain of “Bloodshot” is all the most relatable for it, resonating as it does with the overwrought feelings of my more self-obsessed past and eternally, existentially exhausted present.
This song is exactly why I love basically any music McMahon makes, particularly the way it deals with incredibly adult hardships — feeling left behind by a world you’re not really a part of but having to play along to at least tread water; the very specific pains of a veteran’s PTSD; clawing ever upward despite the discouraging pinhole of hope that never seems to get any bigger but is, at least, inarguably always there — by breaking them down into their most tangible, basic elements to unearth their poignant relatability. Even without a line like “Every day she begins she’s always one day behind” being my heart’s familiar, there is so much to discover about oneself and the people sharing this world with us in the songs McMahon releases into the world, starting without how beautifully his lyrics and music come together to tell the whole story, a lingering meditation on how music at its best and most deftly crafted can be an effectively understated narrative vessel in its own right, emphasizing and contrasting the words in a novel take on implied resolutions and the power of showing rather than telling.
There’s still that intrinsic sadness, though, which is in part rooted in how much Jack’s Mannequin sounds like California and how California largely feels like loneliness. I’ve been lonely in a lot of places, but a place as warm and as inviting as the West Coast’s shoreline is one of those locales where the jarring contrast between the state of the state and the state of my emotions gives a physical weight to the highs and lows of Andrew McMahon’s well-timed time capsule that is the first solo project of his I fell in love with even when it felt like my world was falling apart. But that’s a story better suited to Everything in Transit and that song with the best-ever use of my name in it.