I’m not sure what I was expecting the lead track of Mandy Moore’s latest album to sound like. It’s her first record in nearly 11 years, and I haven’t paid much attention to her discography since, like, the early 2000s. And that was only because I was nursing a massive crush on her as a preteen boy.
But I knew I was in love again shortly after I heard her voice, entering a swirl of electric piano, guitar and crisp drums, offer a simple message: “Out here looking at my phone, but it’s all that I do. What do I need that I can’t get from you?”
Of all the things I expected from the lead track of Silver Landings, it wouldn’t be Moore and her band musically cosplaying as Fleetwood Mac. “I’d Rather Lose” reintroduces us to her with an utterly nostalgic sound that no doubt pulls from the 1970s Laurel Canyon scene, all melancholy and hope, stained with the colors of California cool. As she sings, Moore interrogates the value of living by others’ expectations. “Every picture that I take, every word that I say, ends up a footnote on my resume. Are you happy with your life? Am I happy with mine?” she wonders.
Moore’s seventh album dropped without much fanfare last month, and I didn’t notice it until yesterday, when I was scrolling online in search of new music to consume amid the ongoing quarantine in California. There’s a bunch of sensational new records out right now — a tip o’ the cap to Lil Uzi Vert and Yaeji — but it’s this unassuming work from Moore that I find myself returning to, again and again. It’s just so easy to wrap myself up in the beautiful, breezy adult-contemporary vibes Silver Landings offers. It sounds like the idea of self-care feels — and it doesn’t hurt that it’s full of singalong melodies that I can belt in the living room.
There are jewels to find all over the album, from the utterly pristine instrumental production to the warm contours of Moore’s underrated voice. I love the way she soars in the hook of “Easy Target,” and the intimacy of her lower-register crooning in “Stories Reminding Myself of Me.” She was always a more talented singer than cohorts like Britney and Jessica Simpson, with an understated ease that made her the polar opposite of Christina Aguilera. Moore never came close to tasting the kind of success those women did, whether on the charts or in the zeitgeist, and for a while, it seemed like she’d given up on music altogether. Many years would pass before the rest of us realized to what extent she was being held back by Ryan Adams, her former husband and producer, whom she says made a point of belittling her career and status as a musician.
The duo divorced in 2016 just as Moore was jumping onto the TV drama This Is Us, and I can’t help but wonder about the swirl of regrets and lost time that must’ve filled her mind at this intersection of her life. Perhaps it helped that the story of This Is Us delves into the heartaches and existential questions we must confront as we grow older (Moore’s character at one point sacrifices a music career to be a mother). Whatever the case, finding success away from music couldn’t have made it easier to plunge back into the studio to record songs, with a blank slate and little to no expectations from the public.
Moore’s lived experience makes her songs about finding self-love and the joy of contentment, rather than ecstasy, seem all the wiser. And I appreciate that Silver Landings doesn’t even try to serve as an explosive reintroduction to What Mandy Could’ve Been. It’s a collection of folk-hued tunes that were recorded live, in the studio, sans click track and no multiple takes. In other words, it’s a stripped-down record crafted to be as organic as possible. “I very much feel like I’m at the helm of the ship now, where I’m stepping back into music completely on my own terms,” Moore told Billboard.
I don’t feel all that much in control these days, stuck in an apartment that I’m grateful I can still pay for, eating leftovers alone, feeling angry and helpless about the world. So I guess it’s a salve, in a way, to hear Moore reflect on struggle, loss and identity but somehow sound at peace with all of it. Silver Landings isn’t an ode to being happy — it’s an ode to growing up, and realizing it’s not too late to be better, whatever that could possibly mean.
There are many, many albums I will consume in quarantine, surely. But Moore’s unheralded comeback is the album that inspires me to be okay, and smile knowingly at all the bullshit that was, and all the bullshit to come. For now, it’ll do.