The Shins – Port of Morrow
Writing songs is becoming more difficult for James Mercer. In the early days it was easy. The songs were short, crisp, catchy. Cerebral, but simple. Gradually, things have changed. It’s not just the amount of time between albums that suggests writing is becoming more difficult. It’s the songs themselves. Take ‘Simple Song’. Simple, right? No. It’s full of fills. Guitar fills. Drum fills. A deeper, talky section in the middle. Simple, it is not. And then, there’s ‘It’s Only Life’. A ballad by The Shins. A very ordinary ballad. A very clichéd ballad. Almost an X-Factor ballad. Terrible. That said, this is still an album by The Shins. Unmistakably by The Shins. ‘Bait And Switch’ could have come straight from Oh, Inverted World and in a good and new way. ‘September’ is a slow song, but it’s not a ballad. It’s calm, but it’s unmistakably a song by James Mercer and The Shins. There’s a moment on it when he sings ‘born of the sea’ and on the word ‘sea’ suddenly the song goes to a whole new place. A wonderful place. We’re pulled back soon enough, but at least we went there. Generally, there’s a feeling that James Mercer is having to try a little too hard these days. Maybe he needs a collaborator, like Danger Mouse, to bring out what’s best within. On Port of Morrow, he still has plenty of really good ideas, but there’s a nagging sense that he has to build a song around them. The early albums felt complex, but natural. Here, they feel complex, but constructed. Ah, but then there’s that moment on ‘September’.