KEXP is celebrating its 50th anniversary as a radio station this year. To honor that celebration, each week we’re looking back on one year of music during the past five decades. This week, we’re celebrating the year 2005 with Jack's Mannequin's "Dark Blue," a song that actually has never been played on KEXP but Jasmine Albertson makes a case for why it should have been. Listen to the piece or read it below.
As an adult, there’s something about earnestness that’s inherently embarrassing. Moments of vulnerability often quickly get followed up by a sardonic joke or delivered in a deadpan manner to cover up a personal revelation. Hence, there’s nothing like the authenticity of teenage angst. All the sadness, all the happiness, and all the myriad hormonal emotions that tap into the core of our being.
Andrew McMahon was never “cool” in the way that his peers in 2005 who were also dropping influential records such as Gorillaz, Wolf Parade, Sigur Ros, and Sufjan Stevens were when he released his debut solo record under the name Jack’s Mannequin. His voice has a nasally tinge that might irritate those with more genteel tastes. McMahon’s music has not been played a single time on KEXP. One music critic called Jack’s Mannequin “as docile as a three-legged kitten.” But that’s okay, because to a massive horde of pre-teens, teens, and former teens, Everything In Transit is everything to them.
While I’m not thrilled to publicly document my age, context is important to this piece. I was 17 in 2005 and battling with the typical quandaries that come about during that time in life. Who do I want to be? What will I do with my life? Will I ever fall in love? What do I bring to the world? Do I even care?
McMahon is asking those same questions on Everything in Transit. After years fronting pop-punk band Something Corporate, rising tensions over the constant touring caused a hiatus and led McMahon to move back to his home of Orange County, California. If you’ve ever moved back home after being out in the world for an extended time, you know the crisis of identity that tends to emerge.
Throughout this dark period caused McMahon rarely ate or slept. He feverishly wrote music, as the songs unfolded before him. Against the backdrop of coastal California, themes of lost love, fear of the unknown, getting beat down by life, and shirking responsibilities, but also a twinge of hope for the future are explored through piano-laden power pop that resonates with any young, lost soul.
“Dark Blue” is an interesting one for a number of reasons. It wasn’t written during the same frenzied fever-dream time period as the rest and was instead added on after Maverick Records suggested including another song to the album. Perhaps because of this, the lyrics are more ambiguous than the rest of the tracks on the record and can be interpreted a number of ways.
Led by a forceful piano line, the song is bursting with energy and emotion as McMahon uses imagery of ambulances, rising waters, and the world in flames to invoke a sense of urgency and possibly even apocalyptic doom. The picture painted could be related to a relationship going up in flames, a major life change imploding your personal world, or depression slowly swallowing you whole. No matter what, the song hits in a number of ways.
Some online sources will say that the song is definitely about a crumbling relationship, which makes perfect sense and is - technically - the most accurate. However, this particular line, “Have you ever been alone in a crowded room?” hit a key feeling for me: isolation. That feeling of looking around and wondering how everyone else seems so happy, pulled together, and unbothered. As a teen, I couldn’t fathom how one could do that.
Now that I’m 30-something (don’t do the math), I’ve spent years working on myself, figuring out who I am, and faking my way into extroversion. At this point in my life, “Dark Blue” feels like a memento from another time. It’s a reminder of how far I’ve come over the course of multiple decades, blossoming from a shy, anxious girl to a “buoyant and free-spirited person” - as my friend Martin Douglas recently said.
Looking at McMahon himself, you can see a kindred - albeit much more intense - growth. Just three months before the release of Everything in Transit and the same day he was finished recording the record, he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. This news was heartbreaking to fans and cast a shadow over the record’s release but also drew them closer to McMahon, as he consistently posted on his blog to update fans on his condition.
Thankfully, a stem cell transplant from his sister saved his life and seventeen years later he’s doing just fine. More than fine, in fact. He’s still making music under Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness, has a strong legion of loyal listeners, and ended up marrying the girlfriend he broke up with prior to Everything in Transit and whom many of the songs are about. I imagine he has similar feelings of removed appreciation for that time period of his life when he listens to the record as well.
It may be easy to categorize Everything in Transit as a “guilty pleasure.” One you turn private mode on to play alone and certainly don’t publicly pronounce your love for in an entire piece for a very hip radio station. But I feel zero guilt. Just looking through the YouTube comments on the “Dark Blue” video alone, there are hundreds of stories about how this song, and Everything in Transit as a whole, has helped people get through the darkest parts of their lives. So, if loving this is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
KEXP is celebrating our 50th anniversary this year, and we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year, and our writers are commemorating a song from that year that resonates with them. This week, KEXP's Jasmine Albertson looks back at …
As KEXP celebrates its 50th anniversary, we're looking back at the last half-century of music. Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year and our writers are commemorating with one song from that year that resonates with them. This week, Jasmine Albertson looks back at the beautiful bl…
Each week in 2022, KEXP pays homage to a different year and our writers commemorate it with one song from that year that resonates with them. This week, Jasmine Albertson examines "Yes, I'm Your Angel" from John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1980 joint record Double Fantasy .