The Shins are one of those rare specimens of band: simultaneously revered by the music press and enjoying the kind of following which is certainly more substantial than cult but doesn’t quite justify the term 'mainstream'. Built around frontman James Mercer who has an open door policy towards his supporting cast The Shins, fourth album 'Port Of Morrow' arrives four years after the previous long player 'Wincing the Night Away'.
Pulsating album opener 'Rifle’s Song' gives way to first single 'Simple Song'; four minutes of atmospheric chamber pop with hints that recalls Brendan Benson and proves Mercer still knows his way around a great pop song - no matter what shape the current incarnation of the Shins takes. “I know that things can really get rough when you go it alone” he sings, no doubt partly from experience given the aforementioned line-up changes.
Simple strummed chords, a falsetto vocal and soaring melody mean that 'It’s Only Life' is one of the more musically lo-fi offerings on 'Port of Morrow', but without doubt one of its most endearing. It’s not impossible to imagine this forming the basis of many an American college student’s summer playlist what with its uplifting lyrics (“it doesn’t have to be so dark and lonesome”) and laid back, sunshine vibe.
It’s now that 'Port of Morrow' hits its stride; both 'Bait and Switch' and 'No Way Down' are short, sharp indie-pop gems complete with subtle guitar inflections and Mercer’s inimitable delivery.
September perhaps verges a little too close to banal, MOR Jack Johnson-esque acoustic singalong territory for comfort and A Fall Of' feels slightly laboured. That’s not to say that all of 'Port of Morrow'’s more mellow moments don’t work, as the beguiling 'For A Fool' proves. Augmented by a string section and ambling drum beat the woozy number would be as much suited to the catalogue of Sinatra as it is Shins.
Whilst 'Port of Morrow' is a competent, well-executed record it is unlikely to win The Shins any new fans or top any end of year lists, but that is quite clearly not Mercer’s intention. Despite the odd misstep 'Port of Morrow' is a selection of songs of irrefutable quality - a rare thing indeed.