Home > News & Reviews > The Shins

The Shins - The Worm's Heart (Album Review)

Thursday, 25 January 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

It’s now nearly a decade since James Mercer cut ties with his bandmates in the Shins and took all creative matters into his own hands. While subsequent records may have left listeners in no doubt as to whether he was the project’s true auteur, they’re also evidence of a misshapen band.

The goofy quartet that wrote charming indie-rock tracks like New Slang and Caring is Creepy are dead, replaced by a revolving door of guest musicians led by an increasingly experimental Mercer. Fans who have made peace with that change may still have enjoyed last year’s ‘Heartworms’, a collection of tolerable if uninspiring psychedelic tunes with pleasant vocal hooks.

Nevertheless, you can’t help but feel that ‘The Worm’s Heart’, a “flipped” edition of ‘Heartworms’ composed of reworked versions of its tracks, is an unnecessary and unwanted project.

Rather than experiment with new ideas, or at the very least remix the band’s classics, Mercer has elected to reanimate songs that were already limited in scope.

It’s not all as depressing as it sounds as each track retains its top melody, with Mercer instead choosing to play “slow songs fast, quiet songs louder, fast songs slower and loud songs quieter”. Reassuringly, the album also (for the most part) dispenses with the suffocating production that made ‘Heartworms’ so unpalatable at points.

It’s also to Mercer’s credit that he’s capable of making songs that he’s undoubtedly agonised over for months and years sound breezy and unfussy. Consequently, the best tracks on here tend to be stripped back reinterpretations of the more ostentatious ones on ‘Heartworms’. Rubber Ballz, previously one of his more obnoxious cuts, is recast as a bubbly acoustic number, and Dead Alive feels far less claustrophobic with the addition of subtle strings and plonking piano.

Unfortunately, this is also true for the reverse. Guitar-led tracks become synth-led at many points, almost always unnecessarily. Then there’s Mildenhall, a previously gentle and likeable song, which is transformed with swirling organs and bluesy rhythms. That shift is then compounded by jagged guitar countermelodies for good measure. You’d give Mercer props for creativity if it weren’t so grating and migraine-inducing.

Putting these wild misfires to one side, it’s the tracks with subtler alterations that sum up the Shins’ difficulty as an ongoing project. Since the break-up of the original line-up, Mercer has clearly drawn inspiration from Of Montreal and Animal Collective in terms of production, with ‘Heartworms’ making use of heavy reverb and surreal frequencies.

While Mercer’s obsession with this sound might make for derivative songwriting, it’s at least a style that suits his wider artistic vision. Tracks like Fantasy Island and So Now What, for example, originally worked because they were so dreamy and otherworldly. Attempts to rewrite them in a more straight-up pop-rock style on ‘The Worm’s Heart’ just dilute what was enjoyable about them in the first place.

Choosing to the resuscitate the band’s most inconsistent and lifeless record was undeniably Mercer’s first mistake but, more worryingly, you get the sense he’s still attempting to satisfy both older fans and his own experimental impulses. With the band’s glory days long behind them, it’s increasingly obvious that the latter is the only path with any remote potential.

Let Us Know What You Think - Leave A Comment!

You May Also Like:

Hop Along - Bark Your Head Off, Dog (Album Review)
Thu 12 Apr 2018
Photo: Tonje Thilesen When confronted with an empty canvas, there’s always a temptation to fill every inch of it; to purge yourself of ideas, to remake and remodel. On their second album, ‘Painted Shut’, Hop Along didn’t have that option. Their time in the studio came with a full stop attached to it, so they had to work fast and clean. The dense, layered approach of their debut, ‘Get Disowned’, was set aside in favour of economical indie-rock songs that had the happy byproduct of pushing their melodies, and Frances Quinlan’s remarkable voice, to the fore more than ever before.
The Shires - Accidentally On Purpose (Album Review)
Thu 26 Apr 2018
It’ll rather be amusing if anyone accuses the Shires of selling out to the world of American pop-country on their third album. The British duo were clearly edging further in that direction on 2016’s ‘My Universe’ anyway, so it only took a small step for Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes to fully embrace that style and deliver ‘Accidentally on Purpose’, a fine album that’s tailor-made to crack the US market.
Speedy Ortiz - Twerp Verse (Album Review)
Thu 03 May 2018
Photo: Shervin Lainez ‘Foil Deer’, Speedy Ortiz’s 2015 album, cemented their place as a band who are always worth listening to. Sadie Dupuis constantly has her head on swivel, picking anecdotes that on closer inspection veer away from the autobiographical and into the universal.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Sex & Food (Album Review)
Wed 18 Apr 2018
Photo: Neil Krug A simple glance at the tracklisting would lead you to think that ‘Sex & Food’, the fourth album by Unknown Mortal Orchestra, is intently focused on the political context in which it was born. Ours is a world of technological turmoil and political pandemonium, and more than half of the song titles here scream of a critical appraisal of our current climate.
Manic Street Preachers - Resistance is Futile (Album Review)
Wed 25 Apr 2018
After dragging themselves out of the doldrums with 2007’s ‘Send Away The Tigers’, Manic Street Preachers released a string of superb records that were often brave, creatively single-minded and indicative of a band still bursting with ideas. But what goes up must come down. Their new LP, ‘Resistance is Futile,’ may offer a return to their anthemic mid-’90s sound, but it’s a hit and miss affair that sees a winning run finally come to an end.
Blossoms - Cool Like You (Album Review)
Thu 10 May 2018
Did you hear the one about the band who recorded two versions of their second album, and then released the wrong one?
Okkervil River - In the Rainbow Rain (Album Review)
Mon 30 Apr 2018
Okkervil River’s Will Sheff has long been known for his bleak outlook on life. The places his songs frequented seemed dark and dangerous, while rock music was going to be the death of him. That came to a climax with 2016’s ‘Away’.
Eels - The Deconstruction (Album Review)
Thu 12 Apr 2018
The term ‘auteur’ is derived from cinema criticism, and describes a director whose personal vision can be seen in every part of their films; from script, to music, to set design, and so on.
< Prev   Next >