Album Review: The Shins

port of morrow (columbia)

With almost eleven years on the classic guitar Pop scene under their belts, New Mexixo's The Shins are back with their fourth album, Port Of Morrow.

The follow-up to 2007's Wincing the Night Away, frontman and brains behind the band, James Mercer, pulled together a new cast for Port Of Morrow. Including the likes of Modest Mouse's Joe Plummer, Crystal Skulls' Yuuki Matthews, drummer-at-large Janet Weiss, and producer Greg Kurstin, the revolving band members give the album a big, radio-friendly sound and a real sense of focus, despite there being no 'core' band.

Port of Morrow doesn't sound like it belongs to any particular decade or style; blending the laid-back 70's sock rock of For A Fool with the bouncing guitars and keyboards of The Rifle's Spiral. It's not the indie record I was expecting.

Mercer's vocals on Simple Song remind me a little of the Manic Street Preachers style; confident and classic. The song is a feel-good track with a triumphant chorus, frantic guitar solos and a shiny well-produced pop gloss to top it off. Listening to numbers such as Fall of '82, it's clear to see how much The Shins have influenced their peers, both musically and lyrically - especially in their approach of contrasting sweet pop melodies with darker, spiker lyrics. But let's not forget The Shins', too, have grown and developed out of so many artists and genres, with common similarities to Billy Joel (Fall Of '82) and John Lennon (It's Only Life) often attributed to their name.

September has been touted as the record's highlight; a stunning story of affection with brilliantly poetic songwriting:

"Her shining face in a million reflections / On tiny raindrops that fall in a veil / Over our city like notes from above / It overwhelms me, just ain't that tough/"

A straightforward song, it has simple guitar accompaniment, ethereal synth embellishments and delicate hints of Country intertwined.

There's a real sense of familiarity with certain tracks on this album, making it instantly settling and appealing. No Way Down is a classic American Pop-Rock track with a twangy guitar solo and big chorus and slightly Psychedelic / New-Wave lyricism: "Make me a drink strong enough to wash away the dishwater world they said was lemonade".

Although not well versed in The Shins' back catalogue (yes, I'm going to go and do my homework) I can see that this is somewhat of a James Mercer project - much like Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum - and that Mercer is having a lot of fun doing it. This is a diverse album but, for me, it's lacking some solid sticking power.