It’s been five years too long since Albuquerque-based indie rock band The Shins put out their last album.
After releasing Heartworms on Friday, March 10, it feels like the band sort of missed the mark their old school fans were hoping for.
The majority of Heartworms sounds like a washed-up version of what the band used to be. To be quite honest, it sounds like they’re trying to be something they’re not. Much of The Shins discography may have a retro tone to it, but the tracks off this album sound too much like pop music, completely going against the grain of their original sound. Classic hits off of older albums like Oh, Inverted World, Chutes Too Narrow and Wincing the Night Away prove that The Shins should stick to what they know: heartfelt, soft-sounding, indie songs rather than far-too-fast-paced retro-pop ballads to ex-girlfriends or crushes that feature far too much synth than is good for anyone.
Songs like “Painting a Hole,” “Fantasy Island” and especially “Cherry Hearts” are such general disappointments. While listeners can appreciate the theme frontman James Mercer was going for, which ultimately was a feeling of nostalgia and remembrance for his youth, the lyrics on this album are subpar at best, with lyrics like, “You kissed me once / When we were drunk / Left me spinning on my heels / Called the devil for a deal.” Doesn’t that just sound lame? Talk about sounding like high school. It feels like The Shins are trying to gain notoriety around a much younger, teenage crowd when they already have a solid fanbase among those in their 20s and probably even those in their 30s. This new album is meant for the radio, but as far as this fan is concerned, it is not what we were anticipating.
It’s only fair to try to understand that the band was trying something new and trying to keep with the times. That being said, there are a few songs on the album that do make Heartworms somewhat redeemable. Their first single released from this album was the eighth track, “Dead Alive,” released in 2016. It’s actually a pretty good song and feels somewhat like their old sound, with a slower beat tempo and lyrics that simply sound more thought out but can still get a crowd moving and singing along.
The same goes for their second single released off the album, “Name For You,” which they played on the March 14 episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Lyrics like “They’ve got a name for you girls / What’s in a name?” may not be the best either, but it’s easy to appreciate the original meaning behind the song. Frontman and songwriter Mercer told NPR that the song is a “hopeful ode of empowerment to [his] daughters,” which is further expressed in the first verse as he sings, “My girl if you’re lucky one day / Rolling down the ancient high street you’ll find / In the mirror reflects a woman in her prime / … They’re just afraid of you speaking your mind.” Any woman in this day and age can find some ounce of appreciation for the feminist vibe this song exudes.
Despite an overall disappointing fifth album by The Shins, long-time fans should appreciate their willingness to step out of their comfort zone to try something different.
This review first appeared in The New Paltz Oracle on April 6, 2017.