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The Shins - Port Of Morrow

If James Mercer came up to me and pitched a punch in the face for 16 dollars, I wouldn’t trust myself to say no. I would also back him to set up quite a successful surf store in Broken Hill. Because with this album he has done the impossible to me, and thats make me fall in love with him. And he is an artist that I don’t want to like. It’s similar to the teenage girl falling in love with the 21 year old ex-con with tattoos and another girls juice on his breath. She hates him, her parents hate him, but she is magnetically drawn in.

When Port Of Morrow was released I thought, meh. I’ll give it a listen, see if it’s anything ground breaking. I’d read a few interviews with the main man already and was very skeptical. He fired his band and kept the name that they’d all help build and create. So rather than start anew he just piggy backed on The Shins name. Not off to a good start.

Then I popped the album on repeat and started work. Ten minutes in I was in agony, I loved the album despite my dislike of the man and his previous work. By the end of the 41st minute I was a changed man. The Rifle’s Spiral starts you on a pop journey you can’t stop. It’s beauty! The lyrics are so simple, so life-like, so accessible yet perfect. Simple Song is just an orgasm, plain and simple. Layer upon layer of guitar, and Mercer’s unique ability to sound like The Darkness whilst talking directly to the 20 somethings who worship him. Fall of ‘82 would have been perfect when I was 15. The abrupt ending of it just appeals even more, there is no resolution. ‘Mum I lost my sweet tooth, what’s the point of going round’. No chintzy it all worked out in the end crap. For A Fool rings truer than anything else on the album, Mercer reminiscing of a time he was exposed, but rather than glossing over it he lets us in on the lesson he taught himself from it. On It’s Only Life I even felt connected with him for a moment,
I’ve been down the very road you’re walking now
It doesn’t have to be so dark and lonesome
It takes a while but we can figure this thing out
And turn it back around

I don’t want to sounds chintzy myself but at times his lyrics slip over you in a comforting way, like the second blanket on a cold night. You say to yourself this man is 42 years old, I’m sure he’s been there and seen it all and now he is going back down the line and imparting his own brand of wisdom. September shows us we can triumph even despite our flaws, not to question ourselves and be constantly critical. No Way Down: ‘What have we done? How’d we get so far from the sun?’ It reads like a 23 year olds diary! It reads like my freaking diary!

And of course the entire album is tied together by acoustic guitar, which is normally the anti-thesis to high end pop production such as on Simple Song or The Rifle’s Spiral. Somehow Mercer just keeps bringing his guitar right back out to the front of the band, like a wiley old boxer who keeps getting back up after every knockdown to throw more skillful and precise punches. And he lands every single one!

The amazing thing is that Mercer is over 40. He sounds like the most keyed in 21 year old I’ve ever heard. Previous Shins’ work has helped people on the wrong side of 30 regather the pieces of their youth and put it all back together posthumously. Port Of Morrow foregoes any of that. Rather than it feeling like Mercer is reminiscing his early days through a telescope, it sounds like he has somehow perfected time travel and landed smack bang in his formative years again and is giving us a blow by blow update. Only the title Fall Of ‘82 gives any hint of a man who has been there but a very very long time ago. Mercer is just as brilliant at spinning his stories as he is at exploiting an entire sub culture and introducing it unwittingly to pop music.

For me, 10/10. Anyone who can turned such a jaded soul as myself in to a true believer deserves a perfect score.

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