We Miss the Simple Songs
The Shins released their fifth album, Heartworms, on James Mercer’s Aural Apothecary label. In full disclosure, there’s something about Heartworms that makes it seem less “Shins-like.” Mercer’s vocals aren’t in his historically upbeat fashion, and there aren’t very many standout tracks in this particular work.
The album starts off strong with “Name For You,” a catchy, upbeat opener that’s about the only nod to early Shins productions, but it seems to take an aimless turn from there. “Painting a Hole” has a reggaeton beat and forced, southward-winding seductive vocals. “You’re painting a hole / can you crawl up inside it? / you’re painting a hole / on everyone in your way / you’re painting a hole / to magical violence / you’re painting a hole / but it keeps fading away,” Mercer sings about consumerism and essentially the wheel of repetition experienced in life. “Cherry Hearts” is forwardly electronic and moves in random directions. “You kissed me once / when we were drunk / my head when running on the floor / past the window, past the door,” are lyrics that can best be described as candy pop or even lacking of substance and straight up trivial. “Dead Alive” stands out a bit more than the rest with psych rock influence and an airy ’70s style. “Fantasy Island” is an ’80s-inspired ballad that serves mostly to prove Mercer’s dedication to the dotted eighth note. “I don’t wanna bore you today,” he sings, undoubtedly wishing the song were a bit more interesting. “Half a Million” sounds like a pop-punk update, while “Mildenhall” is most likely the product of one too many Margaritaville getaways. “The Fear” closes the album with Latin-inspired rhythms in the form of a gentle corrido.
There’s enough evidence to suggest that Heartworms can be considered as a metaphor for a diseased or corrupted heart — one that’s perhaps opened one too many times and went unreciprocated and felt abandoned. But this new sound borders between what can currently be described as pop music with splatterings of ’70s rock — it’s heartwarming in the same way as is a father trying to relate to his teenage daughter, but she’s probably not listening to it either.
The Shins have written some incredible songs, but the evidence is not to be found in Heartworms. While it’s clear that Mercer has a beautiful voice and strong determination, he’s starting to turn into the odd, irrelevant uncle at the passover table, and his mid-life indie rock band isn’t adding as much to the conversation as it used to.