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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"Port of Morrow", The Shins' maturity record?

Port of Morrow

Five years have passed since The Shins' last record, the recommendable "Wincing The Night Away". And despite I loved "Broken Bells", his adventure with Danger Mouse, it was quite obvious we needed another dose of James Mercer, now the remaining member of the original band. Considering this fact, there were concerns about how this "new" The Shins were going to look like (better said, sound).

The mix between uncertainness and great anticipation quickly turned into extremely high expectations after hearing "Simple Song", the first single, premiered in advance of the album. Among the best things Mercer has created, in my opinion, the song is an instant classic, and the best appetizer for the record. But now that we have "Port of Morrow" in our hands, the tune is also a curse for the rest of the album, being its arguably greatest moment.

The "problem" is not at the start of "Port of Morrow", which is terrific. Opener "The Rifle's Spiral is brilliant, full of wonder and a lusher production (many little things going on). Then comes the aforementioned "Simple Song", followed by the first ballad, "It's Only Life", the first divisive song of the album. I admit I adore it, to me is one of the finest moments of "Port of Morrow", but I can understand some criticism that points this is a "docile" tune, not very far from AOR music or mainstream pop. Awesomely done (I like the reference I have read about Crowded House, a band, sniff, sniff,  that introduced me into pop when I was a teenager) for certain, but a bit cheesy.

That "issue", the slight feeling of dissatisfaction with the record worsens with the next trio. "Bait And Switch" and "No Way Down" are the usual beat, fast paced, psychedelic tunes from The Shins without a real punch, while "September" offers the acoustic, pensive side of the band. Don't get me wrong, they are more than ok songs, but for me they are a bit on autopilot mode, considering they are coming from the mind of James Mercer.

"For a Fool", seventh song, is the most worrying of the lot. Its' sad to write this, but this is an AOR ballad destined to become famous by some "emotional moment" on a TV Show, and if we weren't talking about The Shins I bet many "specialised" critics would have "destroyed" its composer. Compared to that, the lighter, happier "Fall Of ´82" sounds almost glorious (I definitely love the chorus and the trumpet solo). And "40 Mark Strasse", that turns from an unpromising number into a compelling tune with a soulful nuance and a powerful chorus (the falsetto part amazes me). Closer "Port of Morrow" is a ghostly, more experimental one, sounding like a Broken Bells tune, which ends the album on a very high and promising note.

"Port of Morrow" is not a bad album. It contains two masterpieces, "Simple Song", "Rifle's Spiral" and three excellent ones, "It's Only Life", "40 Mark Strasse" and "Port Of Morrow". But the rest of the album is a bit flat, ranging from the ok but unsurprising/unremarkable to the disappointing. Maybe this is the "maturity" record from James Mercer (frightened mode on) or maybe this is the first step, after a long hiatus, from a new band, a new The Shins, that still have a genial composer leading them, as half of the record proves. Welcome back James, next time don't take that long to return!

SCORE: 6,5/10 

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