Do you realize how long it’s been since the Shins released their last album? Five years. We college students were still in high school — or worse, middle school. Yikes. Thankfully, they’re back, and sounding as good as ever. But the Shins haven’t exactly grown up along with us. Their music sounds just about the same as it did in 2007. It’s comforting, in a way — but borderline underwhelming.
Port of Morrow
James Mercer, arguably the most influential member of the Shins — OK, who are we kidding, there’s no argument — has still got it. Since 2007, he has been floating around the alternative music scene, most notably forming the semi-successful band Broken Bells in 2010. But he’s back where all alt-lovers think he belongs — fronting the Shins. With a few minor changes to their previous makeup (there’s a girl in the Shins now?) and hot on the heels of an “SNL“ appearance, they release Port of Morrow today, a 10-track album that’s pretty darn good, considering that they’re really out of practice.
The record opens with a sound that is strikingly familiar to Shins fans — “The Rifle’s Spiral” delivers upbeat guitar chords sprinkled with chimes. James Mercer croons, “You’re not invisible now / You just don’t exist.” Ahh, nostalgia. This stuff feels good.
The album’s single, “Simple Song,” is a huge success. It has just the right amount of energy for a perfect first-song-back-from-hiatus. It’s enough to reassure fans that everything is alright, and the Shins have a whole lot of future ahead of them. This song also features what may be the most stereotypically Shins-ish lyrics of the album: “You tell me with your tongue / And your breath was in my lungs.”
The Shins take on their version of a ballad with “It’s Only Life,” a drooping, sentimental track that pairs effortlessly with Mercer’s nasally falsetto. The song picks up steam as it progresses, toying with syncopation and hard-hitting percussion, which add just enough quirk to help the band achieve its recognizable pop-rock sound.
“Fall of ’82” has an ear-catching guitar opening and allows Mercer to experiment with his range a little — he sounds phenomenal. Throw in a brass bridge and soft, echoing vocals into the formula and voila! It’s a Shins song.
With an updated sense for publicity — iTunes streamed the album for free for a week prior to the release — the Shins seem ready to boogie on this next leg of their musical life. They’ve got an international tour ahead (and they’re coming to Detroit in June!), and fans seem to be enthusiastic about Port of Morrow — or maybe it’s just about the Shins being active again at all.
Because when it comes down to it, there’s not a whole lot to dislike about this album, but it’s not exactly the most fulfilling, either. It’s good, it’s solid and it’s clearly another brainchild of James Mercer — everything we have come to expect from these guys (and girl …). But if they continue making music — hopefully fans won’t have to wait another five years — it would be nice to hear a change or risk of some kind. They can give us something different now — we already know that we’ll always love them.