The Shins have topped many lists in the previous decade. 'Oh Inverted World' was widely regarded as one of the best albums of 2001. This theme continues with 2003's 'Chutes Too Narrow, which I regard as The Shins magnum opus. They dipped in originality with their third album (like a fair few bands were) 'Wincing The Night Away'. A five year gap has seen a move away from Sub Pop Records and towards Columbia Records, three original members being 'axed', and mixing being taken up by one of my favourites, Rich Costey. The Shins have always been on the tip of the tongue, but have never really broke into their own commercially. Point of Morrow takes on a matured sound and a thorough, laid back attitude to song structure and dynamics. Meaning, it's pretty bland if you're down with the experimental supercilious artists.
Certain aspects of this album surprise and amaze me, other aspects lead towards disappointment and trembling attention. 'The Rifle's Spiral' starts well with an 'Ian Brown' motif and indie pop structure, but the outcome is very standard and predictable. The synths sound great, as do the drums performed by Wild Flag's Jenet Weiss. The 'standout' to me is 'Simple Song' which has brilliant synthesizer rhythms and guitar structure. The track explodes with this 60's beat and hard hitting guitar work which improves the sound drastically. The listener is met with a melancholy piano segment and a simplistic vocal before erupting yet again with the heavier material and then.. Fade out.
This album is no 'Fighting In A Sack'. All the rawness and original passion has been replaced with 'fourth album material' which eats away at me like petrol money. One of the key features of The Shins early work was the applied vocal reverb which gave James Mercer an extra edge to separate him from all the other 'indie' vocalists of the time. 'It's Only Life' is an attempted ballad with small high pitched vocal segments which sound awful. The lack of vocal effects scares me because Mercer isn't the best of singers. The track does pick up, however the pre-chorus and vocal hook's sound very 2006/2007, The Kooks, Ian Brown.. Mystery Jets, you get the picture. 'Bait And Switch' is a huge improvement; you can really hear the difference between this summer track and the previous few. The guitar work is immense and the vocal sits nicely with the backing chants. Everything is such an improvement, from the light percussion on the right speaker to the tiny background guitar solos; it's a stellar of a track.
'September' returns to the acoustic material I personally adore. The lengthy reverberated segments are unexpected and sound consistent with Mercer giving a solid vocal with imaginative and well set out lyrics. It's one of the few solid tracks because of its stripped back instrumentation and melancholy vibe. This album splits opinions because tracks can go from sweet velvet like September to the generic 'No Way Down'. The terrible drum sound and 'pop-rock' style is overused and it shouldn't be applied to anything to do with The Shins. I'm afraid this track comes across as cheap and 'meh' to me. 'For A Fool' has exactly the same effect. It's not deep or energetic; it's just standard and comparable to every 80's American 'rock' band. "The way we used to carry on, you're stuck in my head like a terrible song," oh the irony...
I understand artists like to improve and genre-shift/divulge into the unknown as albums stack up, but The Shins have not found new ground here. It's just an elevator going down toward a generic failure... That being said, I do believe they will release an absolute gem next time round. You'll just have to wait until 2017 and sit through countless Broken Bells material.
'Fall of '82' starts off poor with the custom guitar riff and the almost unbearable drumming. The bass is almost repetitive as it drags on without any passion or intelligent dynamics. Horns enter with more vigorous guitar work, finally something worth praise. The verses are absolutely bland and possibly the most off putting and generic verses I've heard for years. The horn solo adds nothing but personal laughter from myself. I think Mercer knows how on the edge this album is, adding in unnecessary instrumentation at the wrong time. This is a soft rock track with no energy, and it shows, the whole back half of this album is nontechnical and lacking dynamics. '40 Mark Strasse' is especially bland. It has that same acoustic guitar riff and progression that we've heard seven/eight times already on this album, maybe with a slight variation. Mercer attempts to add high pitched vocals on the chorus but it comes across as XFactor runner-up material.
I'm thinking of Robbie Williams whilst listening to this record. Certain tracks are very commercially and 'light' with a hint of sadness coming from the lyrics. Mercer hits the spot on the album closer, with this track keeping my score above average. The layered vocals are effective and the song structure is much more presenting and psyches than the previous nine tracks. The song writing is brilliant here and the writing has been a key focus to this album. People underestimate Mercer's ability to write solid tracks, and this album raises his games massively, at least he hasn't lost all of his originality and talent.
You may think this review is harsh, but I don't think so. The structure is not up to The Shins standard and the instrumentation is as generic as mid-day radio garbage. Vocals are hit and miss on several tracks, but overall are better than what I thought on first listen. I see past the old material and hear darker themes in vocals. I can tell why some fans will appreciate this album to their full capability; I can also see why people will forever hate on this album. I'm stuck between the two because It's not that bad, but it's not amazing or beyond 'great'. Many tracks are bland and repetitive with no real backing other than some slight electric guitar solos which come apparent as 'filler'. Disappointing.