That a scraggly group of Portland-by-way-of-Albuquerque thirty-somethings is somehow releasing one of the most anticipated albums of 2007 is no small feat. The back story of how we got here speaks volumes about the power of modern-day marketing schemes, but that’s a discussion for another day. What matters for now is that, after being shoved headlong into the spotlight, the little indie band that could has fared surprisingly well with all the pressure that comes along with it. This isn’t to suggest that Wincing the Night Away is the Shins’ best album to date (in fact, it may be the band’s least consistent effort up to now), but with all the stress and myriad delays, it’s also far from the unmitigated disaster it could (and probably should) have been.
There was a lot of talk in the lead-up to its release about how the Shins were going to branch out on Wincing the Night Way, but, more than anything, the band seems to have returned to its roots. Gone are the naked, straight-laced pop songs from 2003’s Chutes Too Narrow. Instead, we see a renewed-and improved-emphasis on atmosphere and quirky production, re-legitimizing the Brian Wilson comparisons that the band’s champions were lauding them with what seems like forever ago.
Still, while the touches of mystery that this development provides are welcome additions, they can’t mask the fact that Wincing the Night Away suffers from a fair deal of uncharacteristic filler. The principal offenders, “Sea Legs” and Red Rabbit,” miss the mark: The former’s plodding guitar strumming and bass line and the latter’s bubbly vapidity sounding dull and uninspired. That both songs are lumped together in the middle of the album compounds this problem and really takes away from its flow. It’s a shame, really, because a number of standout tracks are present. “Girl Sailor” (which ardent fans should recognize as a fully realized version of “Won One Too Many Fights”) and “Turn On Me” are great, catchy pop songs, the urgent tone and shifting movements of “Split Needles” see the band exploring exciting new directions, and “A Comet Appears” is possibly the most beautiful song that James Mercer has ever written.
So, although Wincing the Night Away isn’t without its warts, the band has come through with enough quality material to live up to at least some of the hype that’s surrounding the album, thereby paving the way for serious commercial success. This album may not change your life, but it will likely change the lives of the Shins for the better.
“Phantom Limb” MP3