Broken Bells – After The Disco
James Mercer is a great song writer. The Shins’ Oh, Inverted World was one of the finest albums of the previous decade. And Brian Burton is a genius producer. Sure, he once made even a Martina Topley-Bird record sound listenable. As Broken Bells, they’ve the potential to make a great team. And their first album proved that. Coming out of nowhere, it was packed full of joyous melodies and wonderful sounds. It was a genuinely refreshing record. A Broken Bells record. Three years on, James Mercer and Brian Burton are back together in the studio. Rumour has it they didn’t bring any pre-existing ideas to the recording sessions. Instead, they composed new material from scratch. It sounds great in theory. A perfect way to recreate a true Broken Bells sound and not just a Danger-Mouse-produces-The-Shins record. In practice, though, the result is just a little bit underwhelming. Perhaps the law of diminishing returns has started to kick in. There are some nice melodies. ‘Perfect World’ sets things up well. The title track itself is more than just hummable. ‘Leave It Alone’ is built around a nice guitar theme. And the sound has moved on too. The BPM is higher. The bass is bouncier. There are fewer musical tweaks and twiddles. But maybe recording from scratch has left them without the proper time to work things through. It’s as if they’re banking on the beat. Betting on the bass. Without all the tweaks and twiddles the songs can sound pretty lightweight at times. With Danger Mouse at the helm you were guaranteed pocket symphonies and Broken Bells was full of them. While collaborating with Danger Mouse still makes James Mercer sound less like The Shins, this time around collaborating with James Mercer seems to have made Danger Mouse sound less like, well, Danger Mouse. It’s all a little bit of a come down. Just like after the disco.