Mandy Moore – In Real Life

Verve Label Group / UMG Recordings

Release Date: May 13th 2022

Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre

Mandy MooreIn Real Life (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

Track Listing:

  1. Real Life
  2. Heartlands
  3. Little Dreams
  4. Just Maybe
  5. Living in the In-Between
  6. In Other Words
  7. Four Moons
  8. Little Victories
  9. Heavy Lifting
  10. Brand New Nowhere
  11. Every Light

Mandy Moore’s inclusion as one of the 100 artists discussed about in a top influential artists blog series, was, for a lack of a better term, unintentional. It was actually the release of Mandy’s comeback album Silver Landings, which we also reviewed here for the site, that drew intrigue from myself. I heard the album, reviewed it, and since decided to write about Mandy’s impact, influence, and relevance in both the music and TV/film- especially with her standout role are Rebecca Pearson on the hit NBC TV show This is Us. Her ability to seamlessly transition between music and TV/film is most effortless, as one of this generations most underrated, in both film/TV and music, has come into her own with her craft- Silver Landing reminded us all, if we haven’t been reminded already, of Mandy’s versatility as a musician. Earlier on in her career she decided to take on the pop/bubblegum pop of the late 1990s/early 2000s era a la Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, A*Teens, B*Witched, Aqua, New Kids on the Block and *NSYNC, and while Mandy tried her hand at at for a few albums, it was her next few albums, Coverage, Amanda Leigh, and Wild Hope, that solidified her musical genre in the folk-pop category. Distancing herself from bubblegum pop, Mandy’s lyrical maturity and emotive poignancy was ever felt in her 2020 comeback album Silver Landings– this was my first introduction to Mandy Moore as I listened to that album from front to back and back to front again. It was (and still is) one of my favourite albums of 2020, and an-out-of-left-field release (in a good way) that reminded me that the underappreciated genre of folk/pop/singer-songwriter is something that Mandy has revitalised with not only Silver Landings but with her new release as well.

In Real Life released in the middle of May 2022, and while this album was unveiled with much less fanfare or even hype/exposure as opposed to her last album, I still thoroughly believe this album to be just as good, maybe even better, than Silver Landings. With the title track, alongside songs like ‘Just Maybe’, ‘Little Dreams’ and ‘Every Light’ being great standouts on an already emotive and compelling album, Mandy’s fame because of This is Us is what has propelled not only this album release, but also her comeback into music (via Silver Landings), as this 2022 album release reminds us that it is never too late to undertake a u-turn and follow a once dormant dream. I don’t think that even Mandy herself thought that she’d continue on with her music career post Amanda Leigh– but she did, and these last two albums are some of her strongest albums yet. A must-have if you enjoy similar artists like The Corrs, Fleetwood Mac, Ben Rector or even John Mayer, Mandy’s new album is unique and heartfelt, breathing life into a tired and monotonous music industry. It’s good to see artists of people’s youth (1990s) making comebacks, with Mandy’s comeback herself being one of the most real and authentic. This is a must-have for anyone who loves Mandy’s music of the past (especially albums like Silver Landings, Wild Hope or Amanda Leigh), or even if you’re a fan of music, full stop.

Released as single #1 from In Real Life, title track ‘Real Life’ speaks about this notion and tension we all have in life and how to approach it in this COVID-19/post-COVID world. How do we navigate life, and what do we consider to be our ‘real lives’, and what is actually a fabrication and a façade for people to see and not really our true selves? Real life is indeed off social media, living the day-to-day life during the mundane moments. Real life is not responding to every single comment on social media; but fellowshipping face-to-face with friends that aren’t afraid to call you out, to your face, so that you can improve in your real life. Real life is when no one else is looking. Who are you when the lights turn off and you hit your head on the pillow as you lay down to sleep each night? Real life is about authenticity, being the exact same person whether you’re in public or private. To know and believe that validation and acceptance of self shouldn’t come from external factors like social media, but from the knowledge that you’re accepted by Christ in the midst of all our flaw and inconsistencies, and it is in light of that assurance of our love, that we can flourish and live fully and real. That is what real life is and being loved in real life means that you don’t have to pretend to live any other way. We need to acknowledge that just as good as technology is, helping us because of COVID-19, it does hinder us from living our fullest lives, in the real world, off the idealised technological machines and into the real world face-to-face communication between flesh-and-blood people. Hopefully this song can allow for us to see beyond social media, and hopefully go after human face-to-face relationships all the more. Well done Mandy for this powerful song, easily one of my favourites on In Real Life.

‘Little Dreams’ and ‘Four Moons’ are the other two pre-release tracks from Mandy’s new album, that was unveiled prior to May 2022, and just from ‘Real Life’, ‘Little Dreams’ and ‘Four Moons’ alone, it seems as though Mandy’s been able to explore more thematically and musically to show that this album is much more diverse and wide-reaching, something that makes this album have much more of a broader appeal than Silver Landings. ‘Little Dreams’ speaks to this notion and understanding that it is the little things in life that make up a life, it’s the seemingly day-to-day and ‘lesser’ tasks we undertake on a routine basis that really show us who we are in the moments where our character is tested. Sometimes we as people so badly want something big for us to undertake so that we can go through some kind of crucible of learning and ‘enlightenment’, when more often than not, the learning happens when we’re living day by day, being in community with our friends and family, and living without the expectation and longing of something ‘big’ to latch onto. Or as Mandy herself surmises, ‘…I wanted to write a song about how a life is comprised of these seemingly mundane moments that ultimately all piece together to form something greater. It’s about the little things we look back on with such nostalgia when we’re reflecting on a particular point in time: the walk you took with someone right after it had rained, or the drive when someone introduced you to a record that wound up becoming one of your favorites. It doesn’t always have to be about the flashy things that scream out to us—it’s all those quieter, simpler moments that are worth recognizing and celebrating too…’ It is in these ‘lesser’ moments where I firmly believe the Lord shows us things about Himself and ourselves, maybe even more so than the grandiose moments of impact. And that’s ok. ‘Four Moons’ strips down the instrumentation to present a light acoustically driven track, with the song delivering this theme of wanting to know where all the time went, and realising that life is meant to cherish the little moments, to care for someone so much that you see each moment for what it is- an opportunity to show your love to people again and again and again. It’s a ‘simple’ song, but one that reminds us of anything simple. As Mandy herself continues to relay, ‘…it’s about caring about someone so much and trying to savor every moment before it slips away to the next—things like our first Christmas together, or a meal we cooked that came out so wrong we just had to laugh about it. It’’s asking, “Where did all the days go? When did everything start to feel like it was on fast-forward?” and just wanting to squeeze him and our life together as tight as I can and not let go…’

Throughout the rest of the album, Mandy continues to offer up themes of hope and encouragement, as In Real Life becomes one of the most honest albums, I’ve heard throughout all of 2022 thus far. ‘Heartlands’, track #2, is a track where the persona reconciles their lover’s nomad life (or even their friend’s) versus their longing for this person to a bit more rooted down in living, and yet, ‘…when you’re flying a bit too high, when you’re driving with no hands, I won’t say how to live your life, but I’ll be here when your heart lands…’ It’s a track that all of us can relate to very well- seeing someone we love, live life in a way that we perceive to be ‘dangerous’ in some way; but feeling as though we can’t say anything to them, because they’ve made up their mind. It’s a song that reminds us that sometimes, all we can do other than repeatedly telling them our thoughts about said decisions, circumstances, and outcomes; is to just be there when things are tough and difficult, being there when they need us. We don’t always have to say, ‘I told you so’, but we yearn and long and ache for our friend/family/spouse to be rid of the nomad life and to come home- this is what and who ‘Heartlands’ is for. ‘Just Maybe’ is a song sung by someone at the end of their rope, someone in fellowship or in relationship with someone and their union is in strife, because of circumstances not known in the song. Nevertheless, Mandy pleas in the chorus, that ‘…just maybe, we’re all that we’ve got and that’s more than enough to keep on dreaming, just maybe, then again, maybe not, but a maybe’s enough to keep on believing…’ ‘Just Maybe’ asks the question of ‘how long is too long to hold on to try and save something that can be slipping away from your grasp at an alarming rate?’ ‘What do you need to keep pursuing something/someone even when all odds show the contary’. And Mandy says, that ‘maybe’ is enough. It’s a sign, that the hope that comes along with the word ‘maybe’, fuels us in decision making more than we even care to admit. Maybe, the word, indicates going out into the unknown, admitting that you don’t know things sometimes, and this song ‘Just Maybe’ reminds us, that more often than not, a maybe can be the only thing between giving up and going through the pain and difficult moments. And God is with us during each of these ‘maybes’. It’s just a fact, and maybe it’s time we believe this thing for ourselves, too.

‘Living in the In Between’, is a bouncy, light percussion prominent melody that speaks about just that- living in the in between. The tension that comes with living in the current, and yearning for things to come to pass that you haven’t seen in your life recently; while ‘In Other Words’ showcases Mandy exploring the different ways that she can express and show love to her significant other, and reminding us that sometimes, how we love and express love to each other, matters just the same as saying that we love them. We all need to find different ways of conveying love, so that the people in our lives, continue to know and be reminded, that love can be expressed in a myriad of ways, some more common than others, but expressed, nonetheless. ‘Little Victories’ brings more of a poppier side to the table, as Mandy reminds us that it is indeed the little victories that snowball and thereby make inroads and dents into life’s bigger mysteries, and that sometimes, the victories come in the form of disagreeing about things at a dinner table; or learning to live with difference of opinion on _____. Two people in a relationship don’t necessarily agree on every single thing, and that’s ok. The victory would come when people with opposing opinions can come together and find common ground, and each person can ask the viewpoint of the other, with an open mind and a respectful heart, something that people nowadays don’t know how to live by.

Mandy also relays ‘Heavy Lifting’ to us, a song where the persona is willing to sacrifice their time and efforts in said relationship, because the other has been doing all the heavy lifting in the past. The song never delivers the tone that says ‘I have to do the heavy lifting now, because I feel obligated because you did so earlier’, but rather, one that says ‘I see the sacrifice and respect that comes with sacrifice, and what I want to do to honour the other person, is to undertake some ‘heavy lifting’ myself. The album then rounds out with ‘Brand New Nowhere’ and ‘Every Light’- the former is a toe-tapping track about finding out new places to go- physically and metaphorically, when we find ourselves at the end of something and at the start of something new; while ‘Every Light’ showcases someone’s unending devotion to someone else, so much so that they’ll leave on every light (physical or metaphorical?), to light the way for this person to come through, when they’re ready to be in relationship (or friendship) with this person. It’s a song about hoping that this other person is ready to commit, that they’re willing to wait for as long as they can, for said relationship (or friendship) to take place. If that isn’t devotion, then I’m not sure what is.

In Real Life is a much more dynamic, heartfelt, emotive, and poignant album than any other that Mandy has ever created, and this one feels a lot more mature and complete, in the best ways possible. As Mandy embarks on a career post-This is Us, maybe what entails is more of what In Real Life reminds us all, of what her music is to be…which is great. Mandy’s seemingly permanent venture into folk-pop probably wasn’t envisaged when she released her debut album all those years ago, but somehow, years upon years later, the genre switch has paid off. In Real Life is by far one of my favourite albums of the year, and indeed an album anyone should check out, if you’re a fan of Fleetwood Mac, Delta Goodrem, or even Ben Rector or John Mayer. Well done Mandy for such a compelling album, looking forward to seeing how this standout collection of songs impacts and inspires people in the upcoming weeks and months ahead.

3 songs to listen to: Just Maybe, Real Life, Little Dreams

Score: 4.5/5

RIYL: Fleetwood Mac, The Corrs, Delta Goodrem, Francesca Battistelli, Ben Rector, John Mayer

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