Mercer reclaims pop’s throne with Port of Morrow
It’s been a long time coming, but with the latest album from The Shins, Port of Morrow – the “band’s” fourth long player, it becomes abundantly clear that James Mercer is a master songwriter – and the one in charge.
Who knows why it’s been five years since Wincing the Night Away – a solid, if not underappreciated album – after which Sir Elton John dubbed Mercer the most talented songwriter.
The fact is that, for true pop music lovers, it was worth the wait.
Mercer has currently created a musical kingdom (a part of Portlandia?) from which to explore his sonic adventures; Port of Morrow (an actual location in Portland) allowed him to bring in members of the original band (court jester Marty Crandall guests on keyboards, Dave Hernandez provides bass and guitar work) along with Pacific Northwest icons (Janet Weiss provides some solid drumming on the standout single, “Simple Song”, and a handful of other tunes).
Perhaps it is because of this mix of the old and the new that the record occasionally pays homage to some of the great sounds to be found on the band’s debut (Oh, Inverted World) on tracks like “September”…while still exploring Mercer’s fascination with country-bar balladry (“40 Mark Strasse”) and his continued inspiration via 60’s pop (“Bait and Switch”).
Even with the different players, and the sonic shifts, the album is one of the band’s most cohesive. Mercer’s combination of hooks you think you’ve heard before, along with lyrics that run the gamut from clever playfulness to melancholy memory, remind the informed listener that it is possible to have solid songcraft for an entire album.
Perhaps Mercer knows that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and that in The Shin’s five-year hiatus, there really haven’t been any serious challengers to his throne.