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This Music Won't Change Your Life....
on 20 March 2012
No other band has been overshadowed by a reference in a movie more than The Shins. That Natalie Portman line from Garden State has been mentioned in every critical review of this album and its a little unfair. Not only are the band radically different from that era (they are no longer really a band in the traditional sense as most members have departed), but their music has evolved. Port of Morrow is not the same vein of innocence that their first album had and this is as it should be. After all that album was released over ten years ago. However, whichever way you cut it this isn't as good as some previous efforts.
Port of Morrow is a record that sounds like it belongs in the seventies. The kind of singer songwriter music that at turns was mournful and at other joyous. The music is light and at times effortless. However, its lack of weight also means that it lacks the impact and longeviety many would expect. Bait and Switch, for example, is a pop ditty which is light of heart and whilst you find yourself humming along it doesn't linger as it should. Simple Song is effective and efficient but where it should soar highly it doesn't quite take flight. The vocals are strong and this is a strength and a weakness as they seem to lack the emotive edge that first bought The Shins to fame.
Those are the quibbles. And its the kind of album where expectations are high and you focus on what doesn't work before you realise what does. Fall of '82 and 40 Mark Strasse have a kind of linger aftertaste. This is not just due to the melodies, harmonies and instrumentation. The lyrics are also part of their strength. 40 Mark Strasse obviously has a deeper meaning and with its ending refrain of 'you are going to let these Americans put another dent in your life' you realise that the time it has taken to make this is reflected in the overall effect. The title track end proceedings well and has the wistful quality of The Shins at their absolute best.
This is music that will grow the more you listen to it. But it won't grow into the classic many expected or wanted. Its not bad at all. But the weight of expectation of any Shins album make you feel like its not what it should be. But then again the band aren't what they used to be. The sparse arrangements are not as strong as they were and this is the album of one mans work really. And that man, James Mercer, is obviously a different person than he was previously. Thats what is really reflected here.