Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

Mandy Moore – When I Wasn’t Watching

A comeback with stakes…


Julian Axelrod: Mandy Moore never really had a Thing. She has a sturdy, malleable voice, distinctive enough to pick out of a lineup but versatile enough to flit between bubblegum pop and animated musicals. Her girl-next-door demeanor felt lived-in and unforced, but in retrospect it might have just been another role. That’s bad news for the Mandy Moore Career Reassessment (currently scheduled for 2022) but good news for the Mandy Moore Maturity Move. “When I Wasn’t Watching” is knotty and unruly, slipping in and out of a Fleetwood Mac groove like a sweater on a warm September day. It’s earnest in its quiet tragedy, a clear-eyed assessment of a decade in the dark. (The fan in me desperately wants to discuss Mandy’s music outside the context of Ryan Adams, even though this is in many ways a direct response to that relationship.) But the thing I love most is how unassuming it feels, pulling punches and holding back tears when it could easily go for the jugular. It’s powerfully understated, a testament to how easy it is to grow out of the past when you never let it define you in the first place.

Katie Gill: I am 500% here for supporting Mandy Moore and her big comeback single, go stream this, fuck Ryan Adams. I am also 500% here for the aesthetic of this song, which is reminiscent of ’90s Jewel: an easy-breezy vocal over acoustic guitars. It’s a sound that I didn’t know I missed.

Kayla Beardslee: This is… nice. That’s kind of all there is to it, although I do like the personal, reflective bent to the lyrics. On each listen, I change my mind about the production: Its pace is relentless, which makes the chorus less energetic than it could be. But isn’t that choice a good match for a lyric about how we’re constantly changing, even when not expecting it? Yes, but some quieter verses, giving contrast to a more explosive chorus, could have still felt confessional and tonally appropriate.

Vikram Joseph: It took me a while to figure out what was going on with the key change into and out of the instrumental section here, but it’s an odd choice regardless. Also an odd choice: releasing a comeback single after a decade away that barely gets out of second gear. I actually like the tentative shuffle of the verses, but it needs to go somewhere more interesting than a slightly more urgent shuffle over the same chords in the chorus, and that instrumental section is just far too long. It’s all very tasteful, and that’s rarely an adjective that precedes a high score.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: A best case scenario for self-consciously mature, retro pop. Moore threads the needle between restraint and emotion without coming off as boring, and the arrangement does the same. There’s a real joy in the rolling guitars and the faux-’70s instrumental touches, and while “When I Wasn’t Watching” doesn’t do anything all that new with the formula, it’s pleasant enough to be worthy in its own right.

Alfred Soto: It has the sloppy lope of a Neil Young song — three words I wouldn’t have used to describe Mandy Moore’s music a decade ago. She and her co-writers pin a vibe whlie letting the song get away from them. Yet she gets it: “How do I retrace the steps I haven’t taken yet?” indeed.

Tobi Tella: Shockingly wistful, her bubblegum pop voice has matured beautifully. It’s still upbeat and groovy, but it’s honest about how time passes and is fine with remaining bleak. It’s a pretty stunning song for a pop star’s comeback.

Ian Mathers: Sometimes the best way to come back is with this kind of steady, reliable song; one that, sure, has some metatextual hooks in there, but is mostly in the dependable new wave/power pop lineage Moore slipped into so gracefully in Coverage. The kind where the first listen isn’t amazingly impressive, but something’s gotten me to play it like ten times in a row to figure out what it is that’s nagging at me, or keeping me around (maybe it’s the careful enunciation of “looking”, “lost”, “rough”; or the drum hits in the background; or the carefully paced guitar; or just the evocation of time passing and the complicated ache of that). Most people, if we live long enough, have a moment where we realize what we’ve become when we were doing something else, and it’s usually neither euphoria nor disaster; it’s more like this.

Reader average: [7] (3 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

4 Responses to “Mandy Moore – When I Wasn’t Watching”

  1. I’m deeply curious which are Alfred’s three words; I’m guessing “sloppy”, “lope” and “neil”, since I can imagine him using “young” and “song” a decade ago.

  2. The Sloppy Lope — my dream tavern.

  3. i suspected i loved this song when i first heard it, glad i’m not the only one

  4. Next beer at the Sloppy Lope is on me

Leave a Reply