It seems axiomatic that a solo project should be a more personal undertaking; it certainly is for singer-pianist Andrew McMahon, who creates his indie-electronic “In The Wilderness” endeavor with a palette of private sensitivities and unsettled emotions. Having turned the corner into his 30s by the time of his 2014 debut, he developed a clear-eyed self-awareness that made the introspection easy to identify with. On the follow-up, Zombies On Broadway, McMahon more fully throws himself at reminiscence and reflection, writing and recording the album in New York, where he was diagnosed with leukemia more than a decade ago. Unfortunately, he also allows his seasoned songwriting to fall onto an adult-alternative treadmill of formulaic chord-plunking and bombastic choruses that’s big on impact and short on invention.
Zombies On Broadway unreservedly delves into some intimate subjects, but McMahon blasts through them with relentless energy and enthusiasm, resulting in somewhat empty, fun-adjacent cuts such as “Fire Escape.” This dichotomy of contemplation and excitement is meant to be life-affirming but comes off as artificial and manufactured. “Walking In My Sleep,” for example, takes its lyrics from a journal McMahon kept while living on the road and yearning for home; poignancy is largely lost, however, in a steady drama-by-numbers build that would perfectly soundtrack some cheesy movie ending involving lovers madly making their way through a crowd for a passionate reunion.
One can’t help but get the impression that McMahon wants to build off the debut’s success by expanding upon a low-risk, mainstream-friendly sound. But the updates aren’t substantial enough to latch onto any new trend. Though the record leans heavily on technology throughout (and is certainly more polished than anything he’s done before), nothing about his well-tread pop blueprint feels modern. And his forays into pseudo-rap on “Brooklyn, You’re Killing Me” counsel an abrupt end to that experiment. In sum, Zombies On Broadway compiles some worthwhile ruminations and life lessons, but McMahon needs to search a little harder for compelling ways to package them.