March 20, 2012

The Shins - Port of Morrow

It was 2007, and The Shins were living the dream. They had released three quite tasty albums to date and were writing some incredible songs. The Shins' simple melodies and strummy acoustic tunes were exploding on college radio, and their hit single Phantom Limb was earning the band mainstream recognition as well. The Shins' were even in the running for a Grammy, among other awards. After the release of '07's Wincing the Night Away, frontman James Mercer revealed some troubling news: he had fired the other Shins.

So the world was left with Mercer, now the lone Shin, to guide the band to success. Mercer then promptly announced a hiatus for his now-solo project, and spent some time jamming with Danger Mouse under the moniker Broken Bells. Five years after Wincing the Night Away, Mercer found some other Shins and recorded Port of Morrow.

I'm not sure if anyone knows who the Shins are exactly anymore. Whoever they are, they are certainly not The Shins of yore. It is more like one Shin and some other dudes, which I have come to realize means James Mercer and a couple guys that don't do much. Why do I, and for that matter should you, care so much about the name of this band? Well, it is incredibly indicative of the current strengths and weaknesses of The Sh-err, the band.

What we're hearing on Port of Morrow is the work of James Mercer, nothing more, nothing less. Mercer established himself as a master tunesmith as early as 2003's Chutes Too Narrow. His ear for a melody is evident on Port of Morrow. Opening tracks The Rifle's Spiral and Simple Song are brilliant, and September and For a Fool are some of the best melodies he's written to date. However, it is important to realize that Mercer is all we're hearing. There's no longer a keyboardist in the back (Marty Crandall, I'm looking at you) to chime in saying "Hey Jimmy, this song is terrible, let's try something else." Thus, the album has its imperfections.

Port of Morrow is Mercer's self-portrait. Like the man himself, the LP has some strengths. Port of Morrow features brilliant vocals (No Way Down) , great hummable tunes (40 Mark Strasse), and has a great cohesive feel. However, Mercer has some serious shortcomings as well (first off, he's a bit of a prick, but that is neither here nor there). The album struggles as well on the corny It's Only Life and the sleeper Port of Morrow. However, Port of Morrow's highs outnumber it's lows, and it is definitely worth a listen.


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