Sony Music Australia
The Shins are one of those bands that the kids just loved. Four blokes that made pop records that nodded nostalgically to the past, whilst summing up the bonds of mateship and melody. Clearly everyone was on board except for Shins head honcho James Mercer. The front man decided that as the Shins was the vehicle for his songs, and he was the glue that held it all together, he just couldn’t be bothered carrying the others. He quickly dispensed with his long term bandmates and The Shins is now essentially Mercer and whoever he decides to bring along for the ride on each new record.
Heartworms is The Shins fifth album and has been described by Mercer as a return to the earlier sounds of the outfit. This ‘shift’ back to the traits that made The Shins so successful may be a result of the mediocrity that Mercer peddled when joining forces with Danger Mouse for the Broken Bells opening his eyes to his strengths and weaknesses. Heartworms is the first album where Mercer has taken on the role of producer since The Shins debut Oh, Inverted World in 2001. The result is an album that is full of melody and warmth
The father of three daughters offers his own cry for female empowerment on the upbeat opener Name For You. Punters may be too preoccupied singing along to take in the message, but in any sense it is a brisk delight. Cherry Hearts embraces electronica to make the tune particularly dense while carrying a beautifully simple vocal line. It is Mercer’s instantly likeable voice and the topic of drunk kissing that makes it one of his most memorable compositions for some time.
The autobiographical Mildenhal finds Mercer using a deeper timbre to great effect. The acoustic driven reflection on his youth is the closest that The Shins have gotten to a tune that would get McDonalds returning their calls for some time. Mercer undoes some of his call for female empowerment on Rubber Ballz when he suggests ‘I just can’t get her out of my head, should have gone for sister instead’, even if it is tongue in cheek and wrapped up in a cracking sing-along.
With Heartworms, it appears that Mercer has come to terms with how to create a record without the safety net of the original line-up of The Shins. It may have been some time coming, but The Shins are back to making records that will become the soundtrack to long drives and times spent breaking bread with friends.