The music world has been abuzzin’ with opinions of the new Shins’ album, Port of Morrow. Reviews generally begin with a comment on how long it’s been since the band’s last record (5 years), then continue to compare and contrast the new tracks with classics from Oh, Inverted World and also with frontman James Mercer’s solo project, Broken Bells. Then they’ll go on to say how Port of Morrow has some great tracks and some forgettable ones, how James Mercer is a fantastic songwriter so they don’t offend any long-time fans, and close with a quote that somewhat represents the author’s attitude towards the future of The Shins. I think this equation fails.
The Shins have only released four full albums in over ten years. Since 2001, group members have come and go (the most exciting addition being Modest Mouse’s Joe Plummer) but Mercer has remained. His lyrics and unique voice are what denote a Shins song from all of the other pop-indie bands. Every lyric is his. He is The Shins. So even though it’s a “The” band, I think it’s important to view it as one man’s project. And over ten years, a project is going to change. It seems there are two paths that rock bands can choose from—release an album every one or two years or space them out like babies (so they’re never in college at the same time). Mercer has taken the latter route. This choice poses a challenge, however: with only fifty-ish Shins songs floating around in the world, they all have to be good. There’s no room for a bland record. Mercer apparently gets this.