Back in 2003 I remember an album with a funny cover came to the campus radio station and I spun it a few times. It wasn’t terrible, I recommended to folks that liked guitar pop and threw it in the bin with other new stuff. Well, some folks loved it to death, played it all the time and I thought Chutes Too Narrow wasn’t that bad, so The Shins were all right. Then a year later Zach Braff made his hit movie Garden State and that famous scene with Natalie Portman changed my opinion. Popularity kicked in and soon I couldn’t have cared less who they were and continued my existence. When their next single came out in 2007, “Phantom Limb” off Wincing the Night Away, I tried to give them a chance, but no such luck, Avid Reader.
Then 2010 rolled around and Broken Bells dropped one album which I loved and which renewed some of my interest in James Mercer. When the latest single, “Simple Song”, was released earlier this summer something came over me: this wasn’t the same band as before, well, he did get rid of the original guys, but there was something different about this new sound and I liked it. What do I do when this happens? I read and hit the record store to get some facts. Based on the one single and research, I decided to pick up Port of Morrow to give it some proper time. I had to make sure this wasn’t a fluke.
This album is very introspective, personal and short at 40 minutes. The sound is much different than any previous album that I can recall. When I first heard the band years ago they had that distinct “indie” sound that so many bands strive for, whereas on the new album their sound is much more open and easy to tap your toes along to. Many diehard fans were turned off, at least from what I read in the blogosphere, and to be honest I enjoyed it.
If you need something to listen to try: “Bait and Switch”, “For a Fool”, “Fall of 82″, and “No Way Down”. Since James Mercer is the remaining original member he’s pulled a Billy Corgan or Axl Rose by keeping his band’s name, assembling a new band and releasing material. Does that make him some kind of crook? No it doesn’t, it means he’s trying to stay viable and that he’s branching out as an artist.
This album sparked my interest to give the previous releases another shot at some point, and you should at least listen to those songs to see for yourself. Sometimes change can be good and you never know what the future will bring.