The Shins make a welcome comeback on Port of Morrow
Port of Morrow (Aural Apothecary/Columbia/Interscope)
In the five years since the Shins released Wincing the Night Away, songwriter James Mercer has replaced his entire band, switched labels, and started the side project Broken Bells with hip-hop crossover specialist Danger Mouse. Despite the many changes, the Shins’ blueprint remains more or less what it always has been, as Mercer and his interchangeable collaborators have concocted another collection of polite-sounding pop-rock songs that favour lengthy lyric sheets over repetitive refrains.
This isn’t to say that the frontman is treading water, however, since these tunes are more ornately produced than his band’s best-loved early material. The hooky “Simple Song”, in particular, benefits from the lush studio treatment, with its blend of glitzy power-pop riffs and synth-spiked textures. Meanwhile, the horns and electric piano of “Fall of ’82” complement the track’s soft-rock vibe, and the guitar-heavy “No Way Down” keeps things punchy and full-bodied.
Unfortunately, even the polished production can’t redeem the hit-or-miss quality of Port of Morrow, which is weighed down by a handful of duds. Almost without exception, the upbeat, pop-oriented songs are keepers and the ballads are forgettable bores. The sentimental “It’s Only Life” and the dull “September” will have you reaching for the skip button, and only the wistfully slow-burning “40 Mark Strasse” manages to buck the trend. Still, even if Port of Morrow won’t change your life—as Natalie Portman once promised the Shins would in that memorable scene from Garden State—there are enough solid up-tempo numbers to make this a welcome comeback.