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!

Related News

The Shins Share Worm's Heart Short Film
Tue 03 Apr 2018
The Shins have released a short film.
The Shins Share Dead Alive (Flipped)
Fri 05 Jan 2018
The Shins have shared Dead Alive (Flipped).
The Shins To Rework 'Heartworms' And Release 'The Worm's Heart' In January
Fri 15 Dec 2017
The Shins will rework tracks from their latest album, 'Heartworms', and release the new version next month.
You Want To Be Able To Belong: Kevin Devine On The Thrills and Challenges Of Devinyl Splits
Fri 07 Dec 2018
td#right {display:none !important;} ​ Illustration: Tom Norton “If you’re a basketball player you don’t get better by playing people you can beat easily. You get better by playing people you might lose to.”​
Yak To Follow New Album 'Pursuit Of Momentary Happiness' With Spring UK And Ireland Tour
Wed 12 Dec 2018
Yak will follow up the release of their new album with a UK and Ireland tour.
Avril Lavigne Announces New Album 'Head Above Water', Shares Second Single Tell Me It's Over
Thu 13 Dec 2018
Avril Lavigne has announced her first album in five years.
Benjamin Francis Leftwich Announces Third Album 'Gravity' And Shares New Track Sometimes
Fri 07 Dec 2018
Benjamin Francis Leftwich has announced his third album, 'Gratitude'.
Jeff Tweedy - WARM (Album Review)
Thu 13 Dec 2018
Jeff Tweedy’s first collection of solo songs adds up to a gentile album of warm Americana that stumbles along in joyous reverie and elegant inebriation. It’s a fine turn from the Wilco frontman, whose band’s 25 year musical catalogue has sometimes fallen flat, but whose previous album—2016’s ‘Schmilco’—seemed to reinvigorate and freshen their sound. These good vibes have continued on 'Warm'.
< Prev   Next >