Mandy Moore’s Romans Road

Aarik Danielsen

I owe Mandy Moore an apology.

When the popular performer married singer-songwriter Ryan Adams—one of my favorite artists of the past 20 years—in 2009, it seemed a strange match. While some focused on the superficial differences between this beauty and her bed-headed beast, I sensed a talent gap. I knew Moore for literal pop “Candy and starring turns in overly sentimental movies. (My favorite role of hers—in 2004’s Saved!—took knowing shots at her virtuous persona.) This pairing of starlet and “serious artist” offended my sensibilities.

Then 2019 happened. Three years after their divorce, Moore was among several women to step forward and describe Adams’ controlling and predatory behavior. Among his alleged transgressions, Adams put Moore down and put her off professionally. “He would always tell me, ‘You’re not a real musician, because you don’t play an instrument,’” she told the New York Times. Reading that Adams browbeat Moore with the same sentiments I harbored in my heart, my dam broke. I knew I had succumbed to the myth of the male genius—and the casual misogyny that so often follows.

Shortly thereafter, I heard Moore go deep on Marc Maron’s podcast. In the story of her life and the hard but gracious account of her marriage to Adams, I recognized a strong, soulful person living from reservoirs of wisdom. I hear those same qualities on Silver Landings, Moore’s first album in 11 years.

Christians of a certain background are familiar with the Romans Road, a way of walking through the book of Romans to present the story and structure of salvation. On Silver Landings, Moore takes a different sort of Romans Road, one that traces the path we particularly see in Romans 5. There we read of the stations we pass through on the way to faithfulness and maturity: from suffering to perseverance, then on to character and hope.

Musically, Silver Landings resembles the luminous tones of its cover, where a dandelion sky frames Moore in her blissful expression and tangerine dress. The album sounds like the sunrise after night’s deep indigo, rays of light revealing what you have left—and what you have to look forward to. Produced by Mike Viola, the 10-song set possesses the melodic glide of Sheryl Crow’s catalog and often plays like a kinder, more generous version of Fleetwood Mac.

Moore writes here with the likes of her husband and Dawes bandleader Taylor Goldsmith, Chris Walla (formerly of Death Cab for Cutie), Lori McKenna, and Natalie Hemby. These collaborations never obscure Moore’s voice or vision; rather, they seem to draw out her best and truest self. From its first bars, Silver Landings demonstrates the courage and character growing out of Moore’s suffering like green shoots through cracked concrete.

I knew I had succumbed to the myth of the male genius—and the casual misogyny that so often follows.

The album’s opener, “I’d Rather Lose,” negotiates unity between a slow burn and California cool, as Moore relays lessons learned. Hard-won integrity shines through a harmony-drenched hook, as she contrasts her manner with those who’ve wounded her: “I’d rather lose / If the only way to win / Is by breaking all the rules / I’d rather lose.”

“Fifteen” underlines the message of Romans 5 as Moore testifies that character accumulates through our mistakes and moments of confusion. “No regrets, with a few exceptions,” she confesses. “Every wrong turn was the right direction / Still a part of me.”

While certainly stronger for everything she’s endured, Moore reminds listeners that strength can be expressed through softness. Over the velvety sounds of “Easy Target,” she declares she won’t keep score or harden her heart to match her trespassers move for move. Moore isn’t herself unless she keeps her heart on her sleeve, “right where the truth is”—and she’ll be damned if she lets anyone steal her sense of self.

On the buoyant “Save a Little For Yourself,” Moore reaches back toward perseverance. “Not all pain is black and blue / Strongest people come unglued,” she sings. “When someone gets the best of you / Don’t let them take the rest of you.” In the hook, we hear Moore learning to preserve some love and respect for herself, storing it up through her soul’s winter both to give away and cherish in the days ahead.

“Forgiveness,” which reads as an address to Adams, never completely squares with a biblical vision of unbounded mercy. Yet Moore sagely recognizes that forgiveness does as much good for the forgiver’s heart as for the forgiven.

Throughout Silver Landings, Moore sounds like someone who has internalized the ultimate result of hope. Romans 5:5 tells us true hope will never put us to shame, thanks to the worth and reliability of Jesus, its source. There is nothing ashamed or shameful in Moore’s voice; the hope she finds in freeing herself from mistreatment, as well as in embracing fuller forms of love and acceptance, makes her songs soar. Moore will not be put to shame any longer. In her powerful strains, we sense what it might be like to hope without reservation.

Topics: Music