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CD: The Shins - Port of Morrow | reviews, news & interviews

CD: The Shins - Port of Morrow

CD: The Shins - Port of Morrow

An all-new line-up for James Mercer's indie-rockers, but they still manage to deliver

Perfectly pleasant pop hooks that worm their way under your skin

It’s two songs into Port of Morrow, the Shins’ first album since 2007’s Wincing the Night Away (and the band’s first to be distributed by a major label, Columbia) and it hits me that what I’m hearing isn’t something I’ve heard before. Sure, the track - “Simple Song” - started streaming on the band’s website back in January with accompanying fanfare, but that isn’t exactly what I mean. It’s more that those first two songs sound like a continuation, and a surprising one at that.

When you’ve had any level of investment in a band at all, news of a full-on line-up change never goes over well. While the band was really only ever a vehicle for songwriter James Mercer it doesn't stop you dreaming up a convoluted mythology from which emerges a whole somewhat greater than the sum of its parts. The band's line-up is entirely different this time around and yet these first two tracks wouldn't sound out of place on its predecessor. All the same elements are there: the glistening poppy hooks combined with unsettling, alien sound effects and above all Mercer's distinctive falsetto delivering lyrics which - a few heart stopping insights aside - tend to border on the oblique if not full-on nonsensical. "Simple Song" in particular is nothing of the sort if you discount its strident riff. It screams of summer roadtrips and no regrets and, like the best of the band's work, demands to be played loud.

Those perfectly pleasant pop hooks you thought had washed over you have actually wormed their way under your skin

It's after this though that things start to get a little hazy - we could perhaps extend the roadtrip metaphor for the line on "It's Only Life" that asks "how are you meant to steer when you're grinding all your gears?". The song is woozy and reflective as it leads into a middle section which, on first listen, seems to take the best bits of that nice enough radio-friendly alternative rock stuff that you'll happily nod your head to without necessarily knowing the name of the band.

But then it always struck me as odd that the eccentric indie heroine would press this band to the leading man's ears and whisper this was going to change his life, because Mercer's songwriting is never at its most effective on the first, or even the fourth, listen. On paper Port of Morrow isn't ashamed of its slicker, poppy leanings, with a production credit for Grammy-nominated Greg Kurstin (known for his work with Lily Allen and for being the man behind - in Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger" - perhaps the greatest pop song of 2012 to date). It's on repeated listens that Mercer's strength as a songwriter takes its rightful place at centre stage, when you discover that those perfectly pleasant pop hooks you thought had washed over you have actually wormed their way under your skin.

Besides, if you really miss the old Shins that much, "September" is exactly the sort of understated, acoustic, Sunday morning jam Mercer could always deliver like nobody else.

Mercer's songwriting is never at its most effective on the first, or even the fourth, listen

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Comments

I wasn't as keen as you were. Thought some tracks sounded good (40 Mark Strasse, Simple Song) but others were pretty poor pop (For a Fool, It's Only Life). 6/10

Well, I gave it the same score... I just maybe phrased it a bit more nicely ;)

"Simple Song" is great though.

Stoked to get my hands on this album, love "Bait and Switch" http://baitandswitch.theshins.com/

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