Friday, March 16, 2012
The Shins: Port of Morrow (Release Date: 3-20-2012)
If Port of Morrow is their attempt to turn back the clock, the disc is a woeful failure. Most glaringly, the album's second half gets stuck in a sort of mid-tempo rut, playing along pleasantly enough, but sounding disappointingly Dad-friendly (Sorry Dads!). September and For a Fool, in particular, appear completely oblivious to just how similar they are, slipping anonymously into and out of one another without distracting you from whatever else you're doing. Maybe that's the real problem here: With the exception of premiere single Simple Song, every track is far too content with being background music, opting for niceness over intrigue time and time again.
That being said, one could find far worse songs to do homework to. As previously alluded, Simple Song is undoubtably the album's champion, with James Mercer's voice and lyrics slotting perfectly into the band's heyday canon, encased in guitar chords that wiggle in just the right way. Opener The Rifle's Spiral is no slouch either, employing the denser sound that they briefly visited on their Know Your Onion! EP back in 2002. But the tune with its finger most firmly on the pulse of Morrow is It's Only Life, a song that displays exactly how age has effected this band.
It's not that The Shins haven't tried working with twang before, and Mercer's lyrics are no stranger to emotions that seem adolescent in nature, but he's never been 41 while delivering them. When he breaks from the track's near-constant falsetto to deliver the impassioned line, "Call you on the telephone/Won't you pick up the receiver?" I couldn't help but giggle, but I also couldn't help but kind of like it. It was at that moment that I realized what had just happened; The Shins have become Weezer, reliving past nerdy glories with one listenable cheese-fest after another, all improved by the familiarity of the band's sound, and the listeners' love of past accomplishments. There are worse fates, but just like that comparison that I made at the beginning of this, are you really ever going to pick Pork and Beans over Buddy Holly? I didn't think so.