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Port of Morrow: Are Indie Band The Shins Still Life Changing Or Would You Be Better off Watching Paint Dry?

Posted on the 27 March 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Port of Morrow: Are indie band The Shins still life changing or would you be better off watching paint dry?

Jacob Escobedo describes his artwork for the Shins' album cover as "pure Hopi psychedelic spookiness". Look closely and you may spot the "naked ladies" in the smoke, as requested by Mercer. Photo credit : Roitsch

Five years since indie band The Shins released their last record, they’ve finally brought out a new album, The Port of Morrow. Is it a return to the band’s best form or has James Mercer, the last remaining member of the original line-up, sold out? Here’s what the key critics think:

Utterly satisfying. Wyndham Wyeth, a fan since college, was reassured that “the sound of the band has remained intact.”  “I’m in love with this record. It’s just so utterly satisfying,” he declared on Paste. “Port of Morrow immediately hooks the listener and holds on tight right up until the last few seconds.”

Dull as ditchwater. Simon Price in the Independent on Sunday went as far as to ask whether “there’s some urgent paint you need to watch drying instead?”

A little clinical. Ally Carnwath of the Observer found there was “something a little clinical about the efficiency with which he (Mercer) dispatches these studies in perky wistfulness.”

Good but not brilliant. Alexis Petridis took a less extreme view in the Guardian, conceding that although “it’s not an album to turn the listener into a screaming proselyte, there’s still enough magic to make it worthwhile.”

Lovely lyrics? Wyndham Wyeth waxed lyrical on Paste about Mercer’s “stunning way with words,” citing “amazing” lyrics such as “Love is the ink in the well when her body writes.” Alexis Petridis agreed, praising the songwriter’s  “unflashily great, assured turn of phrase” in the Guardian, admiring for example: “every single story is a story about love, both the overflowing cup and the painful lack thereof” from track 40 Mark Strasse. Simon Price warned listeners not be fooled in the Independent on Sunday: Mercer may use words like “sublimate” and “indigent,” but he basically selling us a “highbrow equivalent of landfill indie.”

Kicked out shins. Quoting the “famous line about the Shins … uttered by Natalie Portman in the film Garden State, where she claimed the song New Slang would “change your life””, Alexis Petridis of the Guardian said he was tempted “to say that the only lives Port of Morrow will change are the band members who lost their jobs during its making.” This is the first Shins album since Mercer fired keyboard player Marty Crandall and drummer Jesse Sandoval in 2007 while “bassist Dave Hernandez seems to have got the heave-ho at some point during the album’s recording.” “Growing up in public is hard to do, and not merely because old friendships tend to fall by the wayside,” noted Petridis.

Journey to the mainstream via the Port of Morrow? Margaret Wappler in the Los Angeles Times suggested that the band, “once the poster act of sing-along-and-cry indie rock, is an identity that Mercer … may have outgrown.” Petridis at the Guardian detected a progression from “faintly rackety alt-rock” to the mainstream, signalled particularly by the involvement of Greg Kurstin, a producer and songwriter who has worked with Kelly Clarkson and Britney Spears. But Andy Gill of the Independent still heard the independent side of Mercer, characterising him as “the anti-Noel Gallagher, perversely discarding melodies that might seem too obvious in favour of serpentine ones that take the longer, more picturesque route into one’s heart.”

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