It's rare that I've approached an album with an adamant desire to hate everything about it. After hearing the news that James Mercer had fired the entire band and drafted in a new team, whilst having the cheek to keep The Shins name... I wanted nothing more than to hate the album, and enjoy doing so. So it was strange that in listening to it played by my brother... I was left with a burning intrigue to listen to more. Grudgingly, I had been hooked.
It's tough to pin down the stars for this one. The songs range from I-just-listened-to-that-so-let's-listen-to-it-again addictive to why-is-my-brain-trying-to-rip-out-my-ear-canal awful. There's a lot of 4-5 star material brought down by weak tracks. It feels like it both is and isn't The Shins (firing the original band would do that)... almost like it's The Shins' offspring, where the mother is Broken Bells. The sound is similar to The Shins' previous work - But new additions to the team mean that there's more in the way of instruments and effects.
Lyrically, it's nice to see that Mercer's ability at crafting words elegantly hasn't been hit too hard, though it does feel a little watered down at times. Many songs keep The Shins' charming style of clever metaphors and honest thoughts... but there are points that sometimes feel a little, dare I say, bland. It certainly lacks some of the same charm that fans of The Shins' previous works might be able to relate to.
1. Rifle Spiral - So the album kicks off with this. It's an excellent opener with a nice dark edge to it, infused with Mercer's unflinching ability to craft such visceral images. It carries a lot of overtones of 'Wincing The Night Away'
2. Simple Song - This is ultimately standing as the 'Phantom Limb' of the album. It's a divine piece and thoroughly enjoyable.
3. It's Only Life - Continuing the pace with it's charming tone and delightful catchiness, this track feels a little twee, but is hard to dislike it when you're bobbing along to it. A very pleasant track to say the least
4. Bait & Switch - This is where we start to fumble a bit. It's a fast-paced and upbeat track, synonymous to the likes of 'So Says I' - but the chorus feels a little 'much'. Not sure if it's the distortion, the high pitched voice or both
5. September - It's around here that I start to zone out and the album hits troubled waters. It's pleasant, but lackluster and a little too matter-of-fact (where The Shins have normally been more cryptic). Mercer might have well sung "I'm an imperfect sod... but my woman is perfect. And she loves a man like me. Wowza!"
6. No Way Down - An upbeat and enjoyable track. Whilst it's not as powerful or as memorable as the stronger ones - It's steadfast and quite Shins-esque
7. For a Fool - Definitely a highlight of the album... think of it as 'September's' more talented and likeable brother. It's heartfelt but doesn't get bogged down in being too sweet. The chorus is deceptively simple, but beautifully crafted. One of my favourites
8. Fall of '82 - A bland addition to the album. It's pretty much reading the diary of a miserable kid with a cheesy chorus
9. 40 Mark Strasse - This valiantly tries to save the second half of the album. And it nearly succeeds, as it's perhaps the strongest here. The chorus is a work of genius, and the haunting whistling makes for a tremendous hook. I've sometimes sat with this song on loop for ages, it's that enjoyable.
10. Port of Morrow - Now I know the previous song is a hard act to follow... but 'Port Of Morrow' is like following an opera with a raspberry. It's an effort to finish and actually feels quite creepy. The vocals of the verses are intimidatingly high, and the whole sound is very "I'm going to haunt you in your sleep". An unfortunate finish to the album and left me with an unusual taste. The sort you'd get after eating a wasp. I normally go back and play 'Simple Song' as a form of brain mouthwash
So it's not a BAD album... in fact some of the songs on here are truly outstanding. But a few weak pieces really brings the whole thing down. If I listen to the album excluding tracks 5,8 and 10, it's good. But this one's a real mixed bag and hard to truly sit back and enjoy