Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, “Upside Down Flowers” (Fantasy Records)
Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness saturates “Upside Down Flowers” with nostalgia about family and youth in Southern California, loading the 11 piano-based pop songs with strings, wistful vocals and plenty of instrumental input from producer Butch Walker.
This is McMahon’s third album under this moniker — after stints with Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin — and follows up 2017’s “Zombies on Broadway” by stripping off a decade or three from that record’s electronic sounds to create an intimacy that varies between translucent and supercharged.
On album icebreaker “Teenage Rockstars,” McMahon battles through a sea of echo for what’s said to be a based-on-his-true-story of a band which started playing for the hometown crowd, achieved wider success and ended in acrimony. “Ohio” is the prequel, going back even further to relate his family’s journey from the Buckeye State to California — “Everything’s gonna be better on the West Coast.”
“House in the Trees” takes a brief melody line from Fleetwood Mac’s “Seven Wonders” for another tune where McMahon, a leukemia survivor, slips into Rip Van Winkle mode, exhibiting an uncommon measure of melancholy for his age (mid-30s). “When the last of your friends are gone/You learn a whole lot about hanging on,” he sings.
“Blue Vacation” is a slice of updated slacker escapism while “Goodnight, Rock and Roll” pays respect to some of the genre’s recently departed. McMahon’s love for his grandmother is expressed with understandable tenderness on “This Wild Ride” — which he wrote and played for her the day she died — and album closer “Everything Must Go.”
“Upside Down Flowers” has a wide switchboard of emotions and McMahon the skill to expedite the connections.