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The Shins - Port of Morrow

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Artist: The Shins

Album: Port of Morrow

Label: Columbia

Review date: Mar. 19, 2012

The Shins - "Simple Song" (opbmusic.org)

Port of Morrow is frankly a baffling album. The latest full-length from the latest version of The Shins has some amazing songs, particularly the single “Simple Song,” which is one of the best things James Mercer has ever written. But it also has some of the worst songs The Shins have ever produced, and it’s really confusing how a single piece of art is so all over the place, especially after three consistently enjoyable albums.

As you may know, Mercer fired the rest of the band’s members in 2009 and switched labels, from indie goliath Sub Pop to Mercer’s own Columbia Records imprint, Aural Apothecary. There a lot of things to unpack from this, but without getting into gossipy guesswork, the best we can say is that with new members, the band’s dynamic is definitely different and that in times of flux, you get wildly different results form artists. In the same way that temperatures wildly vary as you move from winter to spring or summer to fall, when artists or groups of artists are in flux (personally, career-wise, socially, etc.), they can produce a lot of art around the same time that vacillates between amazing to simply awful. Perhaps the best artists are the ones that can produce consistent work through times of change, or perhaps one just has to accept that the creative process will necessarily go through these transitional phases.

“Simple Song” is wonderful, with a moving melody and that proggy guitar hook, but it’s immediately followed by “It’s Only Life,” which seems to take its cues from 1990s rock guitar ballads. “Bait and Switch” is a fun song not unlike other Shins songs, and “No Way Down” is a catchy Smiths homage (at least it sounds like one), but then the album closes with two pretty terrible songs. As a whole, it’s a bizarrely bad album. Even though the great songs are uplifting and fun, the others are too goofy or too bland and actually detract from the piece as a whole. While Mercer has never been the greatest lyricist, he’s always produced music that creates a good deal of goodwill, such that you may overlook a lame lyric here and there. But Port of Morrow is so up-and-down that the bad lyrics look even worse.

I genuinely love previous Shins albums, which is just one of the reasons why Mercer’s latest is such a deflating listen. With deference to Nathan Rabin, Port of Morrow is definitely more of a fiasco than it is an outright failure — it’s just that the lows are really low.

By Andrew Beckerman

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