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5.0 out of 5 stars Mercer's Masterpiece, 14 Nov 2007
This review is from: Chutes Too Narrow (Audio CD)
The Shins. A band that will hopefully release many albums over the years, some will I've no doubt turn out to be interesting, breaking new ground wherever the jog button lands and some maybe less inspiring (dread the thought!) But it is quite clear to this reviewer that this unashamedly colourful yet subtle record is the early classic to be grouped in with other records of this calibre. "This years Model", "The Stone Roses", "Radiator" etc All lay the same unfortunate burden on the artist that smirks 'This may well be as good as it gets mate, don't expect something this good in 20 years time!' Cynical though it may seem, songs like 'Pink Bullets' and 'Those to Come' are so haunting and effortlessly uninhibited that I can't help but crave this quality of song writing for the rest of the bands career, however unrealistic that may seem. Within a mere 33 minutes the album delivers everything from dense cryptic imagery that baffles and astonishes ('all this way before murder was cool.' from Pink Bullets) to melodies of such warmth and grace they will have you smiling as though you had just heard Revolver with fresh ears. When Mercer sings "my heads like a kite when such a creature I sight!' you can almost hear the entire population of shy males in the world rejoicing in approval as it is played and sung with such frantic bite and conviction. The excitement levels reach delirious heights when halfway through `Fighting in a Sack' comes a harmonica solo that makes you want to dance like your in a pit of multicoloured rubber balls at the local adventure playground, it's THAT joyful and unconstrained. A stark musical contrast would be the contemplative, highly wordy (a word that could describe most of what's here) Saint Simon, a song that strives to never back down from the 'pretence' that has been hurled in its composer's direction. A juxtaposing theme seems to develop and invite you in with repeated listens. Most of the songs on Chutes Too Narrow exude a stubborn intensity where feelings or loss and nostalgia (Bullets) are just as violently shunned aside by a thrashy punk rock vigour (Kissing the Lipless, Sack - the later sounding like The Beach Boys on speed) Like many songwriters, Mercer seems to exorcise his (very warped) demons through his craft. But there is no new age 'heart on sleeve' whining to be found here and he comes out literally fighting and daring you to question his logic. On the jump-start Live favourite 'So Says I' he professes that WE ARE A BRUTAL KIND, incapable of saving our own lives, the childish, almost throwaway nature of the melody appropriately fitting this audacious statement. This line is perfectly balanced with James Mercer's 'laugh out load' observation that our prayers to dust sprinkling angels in times of darkness are just we silly humans having `conversations' with ourselves. Brilliant, it had me tingling with self-righteousness but cackling like a hyena at his honesty.
I am still discovering why this record leaves me so breathless and envious of such young wisdom put to such gorgeous pop music. The production is raw, deceptively simple and the songs create perfect quiet/load equilibrium throughout making this an effortlessly sequenced album. The Shins are unique in their approach. In years to come, it won't be the Keiser Chiefs, The Klaxons or even Muse that will stand the test of time for doing something different, it'll be this band with this seamless record at the top of the list. They dare to be weird and different but do it with soul and intelligence. After all, it was always the strange guy at school who grew to be the most successful and ended up with the most beautiful girl, this record is no different. Full of hope and above all FIGHT!
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