It’s been five years since The Shins’ ‘Wincing The Night Away’ sold a record number of albums and bagged a Grammy nomination in the process. Since then, frontman James Mercer has collaborated with Danger Mouse on the hugely successful Broken Bells project. The project catalysed Mercer’s new vision for The Shins; this, their fourth album finds them operating more as a collective and features the considerable talents of Modest Mouse drummer Joe Plummer and former Crystal Skulls bassist Yuuki Matthews, while producer Greg Kurstin firmly imprints his pop sensibilities.
The net result is that ‘Port Of Morrow’ is The Shins’ most accomplished work to date. It is both beautifully crafted and exquisitely played. Be it the opening salvo of ‘The Rifle’s Spiral’, or the classy balladeering of ‘September’, Mercer’s songwriting is crisp and confident. Lyrically, he is new territory exploring fatherhood (on the lovely ‘Fall Of ’) and politics (‘No Way Down’ rages against the decline of America’s manufacturing industry).
The ten tracks are not completely flawless. No array of sonic pyrotechnics can hide the clunking melody of ‘Simple Song’, but Mercer’s ability to balance emotion and power in his vocal saves the track from oblivion. After breaking ties with Sub Pop, ‘Port Of Morrow’ will be distributed by the major players at Columbia. The marketing suits will be happy; this record confirms The Shins as one of the very few bands that can shift truckloads of units without compromising their aesthetic one single iota. A gigantic album.