Port of Morrow
In the early 2000’s, Albuquerque’s own The Shins caught the hearts and the ears of the music world, with their quirky and charismatic indie pop tunes. Then in 2007, following their disappointing third LP Wincing the Night Away, the band disbanded for their own projects. Lead man James Mercer went on to put out a pretty good collaboration album with super producer Danger Mouse in Broken Bells, before deciding to give the Shins one more try late last year. However, this time around, rather than corralling the original crew, Mercer would recruit a whole new band, creating a completely different outfit. Newly formed, the Shins are hitting the road this year and hitting it hard behind their new album Port of Morrow including dates at some of the most premier festivals including Leeds Festival and Reading Festival. Port of Morrow, the band’s fourth album and first in five years, has some signature Shins sound but for the most part, reinvents the band almost as a sort of James Mercer solo project, bringing forth some more straightforward, somewhat sappy pop tunes without much bite, leading to some mixed results.
Port of Morrow opens with the whiplash of “The Rifle’s Spiral”, a song high on action but low on memorable moments. Lead single “Simple Song” follows, and contrary to its name, its chorus and soaring arrangement is as grand as anything they’ve done, though it still lies above a classic playful Shins’ bounce. Then there’s “It’s Only Life”, the sort of “take heart” ballad that is plentiful on Port of Morrow, with Mercer crooning more than ever before in one of the more catchy melodies on PoM.
Other ballads include “September” and “For a Fool”, two of the stronger written songs on the album, though they still lack the note of old Shins slow churners like “Pink Bullets”, “Those To Come”, and “The Past and Pending”. There is also a fair share of cheery numbers including “Bait and Switch” and “No Way Down”, with the first being a triumphant return to the band’s surf rock roots and “No Way Down” coming across as a bit too cheery and even a bit corny in its shiny production and attitude.
Album closer “Port of Morrow” is actually probably the most uncharacteristic track on the album despite being the title track, but it also may be its best. Mercer employs a haunting falsetto that he first employed during his Broken Bells project on the smash single “Ghost Inside”, full of all sorts of interesting quarks and warbles as it twists and turns down the rabbit hole.
In studying up for this new Shins album I went back and listened to their back catalog, especially Oh, Inverted World and Chutes Too Narrow. What I found was in my mind there is three things that made those old Shins album great: the lyrics (which were fun and witty yet sincere), it was a full band effort with plenty of noteworthy guitar/bass lines, percussion, and harmonies, and their sound was just plain cool. Unfortunately for me, all three of these things are mostly absent on Port of Morrow as the lyrics are more straightforward and less intriguing than ever, the music is very much focused on and around Mercer’s voice with the remaining musicians feeling more like hired hands, and the music just isn’t all that cool, and actually comes off a bit cheesy at moments, especially on songs like 80’s rock nodding “Fall of ‘82” and unabashed ballad “It’s Only Life”. Not to say that means the album can’t still be good just because it misses the initial ingredients, but I’ve found it misses out on what I loved the band for in the first place, and that’s why, Port of Morrow falls short.
Can’t Miss: “Simple Song”, “Port of Morrow”, “Bait and Switch”
Can’t Hit: “The Rifle’s Spiral”, “No Way Down”, “Fall of ‘82”