Originally written and published by me for Spectrum Culture.
“I spent every day filling every page/ How the world revolved around me / When I saw your face, I knew right away / We’d be whoever we wanted to be,” sings Mandy Moore on the title track and lead single from her seventh studio album, In Real Life. Arriving just two years after her comeback record Silver Landings, the album couldn’t emphasize more that the soft rock, country and Americana influences that feature in Moore’s current work fit the singer so much better than the bubblegum pop of her youth. My 2002 self would never forgive me for saying so, but here we are.
In Real Life sounds in many ways like a post-lockdown record as the singer and all of us relearn how to appreciate small and silent joys that we lost over the last few years. It’s a cute and easy listen, the perfect soundtrack for a breezy afternoon in late spring. It’s immediately evident that Moore has freed herself of the weight of expectations and its accompanying burdens, choosing instead to focus on her husband, son and anything else that might illicit happiness in her life. But the record ultimately loses itself in this theme and Moore’s feeling of Zen that recurs throughout.
Although Moore has indeed left behind the days of “Candy” and “I Wanna Be With You,” In Real Life appears more experimental than any of her previous work, including those of similar sound from Silver Landings. For a performer who expressed regret and cringes over the music she recorded earlier in life until recently, experimenting with aspects of Americana and knockoff country production is more than welcome. After all, before Silver Landings, it had been over a decade since she last released original music. But the tracks on In Real Life sound less like polished and complete songs and more like a diary of something new she’s trying out and hasn’t quite perfected yet. “Little Dreams,” “Just Maybe,” and “Living in the In Between” illustrate this the most.
The Americana influences are best felt on “Four Moons,” which grapples with romance, spirituality and living in the moment: “Trying to catch every little bit / Before the moment slips away / Calling in sick for the hell of it / Take a second, take a minute, take a day.” But aside from the title track, the album’s strongest offering is “Little Victories,” which continues a songwriting trajectory Moore introduced on her last album and should have continued more here: “All of the work nobody sees / Are all of the best deleted scenes / Where you’re being you / And I’m just me / Baby, we could meet in the little victories.” In Real Life is far from her most musically refined work, but it’s easy to hear that Moore has learned how to embrace every part of herself with her newer music, and that’s what matters most.
Jeffrey’s favorites from In Real Life: “In Real Life,” “Four Moons,” and “Little Victories”