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Port Of Morrow
Indie quirksters go straight
Ed Power, 30 Mar 2012
As quirky underdogs, The Shins were easy to root for. But their shock transition to major label stardom – abetted by Natalie Portman’s cheerleading in the movie Garden State – made them harder to love. Under the spotlight, James Mercer’s reedy delivery and choppy songwriting felt suddenly insubstantial and larded with zaniness: wayward to a fault, The Shins often seemed to switch genre mid-track. Mercer, you suspect, was of a similar view as, post-success, he has sometimes seemed to want to do anything other than make a Shins record. He’s sung backup with Modest Mouse, collaborated with producer Danger Mouse on an electronic project and composed several soundtracks, never giving the slightest impression he was itching to get back to the day job.
Finally he has – and four years on since the band’s major-label debut Wincing The Night Away, the curiously titled Port Of Morrow suggests the extra-curricular dabbling has been worthwhile. For a start, the album is far more expertly-crafted than anything else in the group’s catalogue. There’s a ‘60s surf-pop lilt to ‘The Rifle’s Spiral’; and ‘Simple Song’ is the sort of straight-ahead power-pop you sense Mercer’s been trying to write his entire career. Many of those who loved The Shins for their free-spirited eclecticism may find a slick, buttoned-down Port Of Morrow a betrayal of everything these long-time underachievers once represented. That’s their problem. Newcomers will be seduced by its lightly-worn ebullience and surfeit of hooks.