Port of Morrow
Aural Apothecary/ Columbia
You could have forgiven James Mercer for retiring The Shins gracefully after three stellar albums. Indeed, a possible dissolution was on the cards after the frontman fired his three band members in the interim and formed the electronic orientated Broken Bells with producer Danger Mouse to moderate success.
However, Mercer decided to reactivate the band last year with a whole new line up including members plucked from indie group Modest Mouse and Crystal Castle.
There is more melodic intent with Mercer's latest batch of tunes. Where songs from previous albums beguilingly took time before unfurling hooks, the songs in Port of Morrow want to lodge in your head with minimum fuss.
Opener The Rifle's Spiral showcases an added groove as Mercer also allows the song to bounce along with lyrics that compliment rather than crowd the musical backdrop as in previous albums. Bait and Switch adds a slight Latin touch to its sprightly guitar work and Mercer's punchy vocals.
While the album finds the group at its most sunniest, the glow is slightly offset by Mercer's lyrics reflecting on darker times. In the heartwarming chorus of Simple Song, Mercer is cheering up a depressed friend, urging him "don't go think you gotta be tough, to be bleed like a stone".
In Bait and Switch, Mercer ruminates over being "a simple man, cursed with an honest heart". Mercer has been lauded for his cerebral pop approach, but the new streaks of naked emotion here is a welcome addition, allowing The Shins to reach for the heart as well as the mind.