In terms of a life after teen-pop stardom, Mandy Moore is thriving. She doesn’t have a Vegas residency like Christina Aguilera or a new tell-all memoir like Jessica Simpson, but she has carved out an impressive acting résumé, earning an Emmy nomination for her turn as This Is Us matriarch Rebecca Pearson. The singing that first thrust her into the spotlight has taken a backseat in favor of on-camera Mandy Moore, and her new album, Silver Landings, is her first release since 2009’s Amanda Leigh.
You could infer a lot from that title. While Moore’s acting career was taking off, she was married to fellow musician Ryan Adams, an experience she described to Marc Maron on his WTF podcast as akin to “drowning… it was so untenable and unsustainable and it was so lonely.” In a New York Times article detailing the emotional abuse and sexual misconduct allegations made against her ex-husband, Moore said, “His controlling behavior essentially did block my ability to make new connections in the industry during a very pivotal and potentially lucrative time—my entire mid-to-late 20s.” More recently, she told the Times that she didn’t want that relationship defining her personal narrative or that of her music: “I’m so done with that person having taken so much of my life and my time.”
Consequently, the Moore we hear on her seventh album is an artist gratefully and happily reclaiming her own creativity. Her new husband, Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith, has co-writing credits on many of these tracks, and the result is a sweet Laurel Canyon sound that brings to mind handkerchief-hem-era Stevie Nicks rather than the bubblegum pop of Moore’s youth. The guitars are often acoustic, the percussion preferably handheld, the harmonies rich and vibrant. Moore has finally grown into the adult voice that sounded so jarring in her teenaged hits like “Candy,” and her songwriting also reveals a sadder, wiser maturity.
Silver Landings’ message lies in the importance of falling in love with yourself first, delivered via polished country-folk production and a confident vocalist ready to reveal a swath of life lessons. Opener “I’d Rather Lose” stands as a defiant mission statement, with soulful, mournful guitar mirroring Moore’s Linda Ronstadt-esque vocals. Things get brighter on the spirited cautionary tale of “Save A Little For Yourself,” outlining the dangers of giving too much of yourself away in a relationship, nostalgic synths hearkening back to Moore’s singing-in-the-mall days. She paints a more detailed portrait of the past in “Fifteen,” a poignant look at her lost adolescence.
Silver Landings’ best moments arrive when Moore’s explorations veer from her own story to the more universally relatable. The hookiness of standout track “When I Wasn’t Watching” forces listeners to consider “Who we are / When no one is looking” and how that persona matches up with our own public selves. In the equally effective “Forgiveness,” Moore’s determination and haunting acoustic strings send the song past its clichéd title. The song refuses to answer whether the object of her ire will be forgiven—the sentiment is clear that it’s Moore who’s back in control now. Compared to that momentum, it’s easy to spot where lesser Silver Linings tracks trail off, despite the efforts of the Fleetwood Mac harmonies in “Easy Target.” Tracks like “Tryin’ My Best, Los Angeles” and “Stories Reminding Myself Of Me” ask their titles to do too much of the lyrical heavy lifting, endless repetition struggling to push the songs across. By the end of the record, things get a bit too dreamy and slow, Moore’s mellow is pleasing yet aching for something more harsh. The closing, title track is a snoozefest that describes “watching sunlight hit the dust.” Fortunately, the message of Silver Landings transcends the song that shares its title: Mandy Moore has emerged, after 11 years, older, certainly wiser, and ready to embrace a new musical persona as appealing as her onscreen one. As Moore regains her footing musically, the album could make for a soothing soundtrack for future introspective journeys.