Friday, March 30, 2012

My feelings on the new Shins album - "So very simple and horribly complex"

Dear Kristin,
I asked you about the new Shins this morning, what your take was.  You said "I like Simple Song" and I said "me too" and then you said you had to nap.  It was about 9 am your time.  It's the kind of stuff old men do all the time, waking up at dawn and napping at 9 am.  I had so much I wanted to say about the Shins, so many complicated feelings.

Shins faces

And so I have prepared a statement.

My friend JG sent me an email (also) this morning asking for my Shin thoughts.  It was bad timing on his part.  Or, rather, good timing if he wanted an overlong, overwrought reply.  I can't imagine he was expecting all that he got.  It is this reply that I give you.  And perhaps you or someone will respond and we'll have an internet chat and agree or disagree.  Think about the fun we could have agreeing or disagreeing!

A picture of fun.  The Shins from
The essentials from JG's brief email:

On Fri, Mar 30, 2012 at 8:49 AM, JG <> wrote:
> so I finally got around to listening to the new Shins disc.
> i was only half-listening, but what i heard sounded like the worst kind
> of lyrics: instructive. i hate it when bands sing songs telling me how i
> should behave to be successful/happy. "you gotta pick yourself up from..."
> "you need to embrace..." am i being unfair? as it stands, i'm probably not even
> gonna buy this latest, which strikes me as insane given how much i loved their first two
> and wanted to love their third disc.

He asked me one simple question: am I being unfair?  But I had so much to say.

The transcript with pictures and video for your reading pleasure:

"I literally cannot stop listening to the new Shins.

But I can't justify it, can't support it.  I realize they've got the hooks, they're doing the catchy pop stuff that--once it's in you--is hard to set down.  Still, I would never recommend it to anyone.  AND YET I
WANT TO RECOMMEND IT TO EVERYONE.  I'm in a weird place. 

I'm so turned off by some songs, especially when James Mercer slips into lyrics as dull as 'apologies to the sick and the young, get used to the dust in your lungs' (with their forced relevance) and corny as 'is it all so very simple and horribly complex' and as teenage as 'I guess it's only life, it's only natural...The things they taught you, they're lining up to haunt you.'  It's the 'they taught you' that irritates me the most.  They = society. He's a kid writing bad poetry.

And still:

His voice, lovely and Shinsy live.  More on this song with these lyrics later.

Does it move you?  I does something for me.

Mediocre lyrics happen everywhere, throughout the album. Sometimes, they're borderline irritating in their instruction, just like you said.  I'm grossed out by them.  Ew, get off me, Shins!  Go to your room, slam the door and scribble up there!   (I believe Mercer uses the phrase "towering hemlock" at one point, which is more adult, sure, but awful poetry still.)  Half of the time I forgive them, when the song is too good.  And a quarter of the time, when the lyrics are good or decent or ignorable, I love them.  And that is weird for me.  Because I am a lyrics girl first.  But it's just so catchy.

Home videos!  Cake!  Kids! Adults laughing!  A wrecking ball!  (These lyrics, by the way, I've got zero problem with.  Because it's so damn fun? Am I going soft?  Or do I just like pop with a dose of semi-seriousness?)

Shins-related bullet-points:
- When I first heard it--or, rather, when I first listened to Simple Song after it hit the internet a couple months ago--I felt very shrug about it.  I'm not even sure I heard the lyrics I was so 'meh' on it.  I maybe listened to it twice.  Then I forgot about it.

- I only gave it another shot because of a review I read in the New Yorker.  Which, actually, wasn't altogether positive.  (Nor, for that matter, a great read.)  Again, I can't explain myself.  The review made it sound uneven.  And that's exactly what it is--about half the songs are clunkers.  The other half, they're just what I want.  I feel happy and seventeen when I listen to it.

- Simple Song is where I start.  I skip the first one.

- For a Fool is where I (theoretically) stop

Reminds me of Girls, my great love.

- Although I always tune out on the song No Way Down before it--it's got a really 'paved paradise to put up a parking lot' thing going--which I loathe.

 Or do I?  Apologies to the original, Joni Mitchel.  I had to go with Amy Grant for illustrative purposes. Yes, yes I do hate this song.  Especially when the Counting Crows did it.  I hate their version so much I couldn't have it on the blog.  But boy did I ever love the Counting Crows' first MTV/VH1 live disc when I was fifteen.

- And yet I don't, in practice, stop.  I listen to the whole album.  I tune out, but I haven't yet just made a playlist of the songs I like. I think that's because:

- The whole CD sounds like spring.

- So a part of me feels like I can chalk my love up to a well-timed release.  Spring!  It's exactly what I want right now.  Yes, I think some of the songs will last.

- But the CD as a whole--that'll get only another month of attention from me.

-  And, okay, the last two songs I also like, but in the shit-that's-catchy way.  The lyrics, though, remain shit-that-is-not-great.

- In other words, I can only recommend the following songs:
 Simple Song
 It's Only Life (I forgive the lyrics because I love the build and the singsongyness of the second half.)
 For a Fool
 Port Of Morrow
 Pariah King

Half the CD!  That's not shabby!  I await your reaction.

I am also listening to the new Blind Pilot.  It is full of cheese, but it is delicious. (What is happening to me?  I'm seventeen and, then, suddenly, fifty-five.  In love with simple cheese.)   I'M SORRY.  Have you heard it?  Any thoughts?"

J. Benny


I want to be in this audience, screaming.  A fan girl surrounded by quiet, reverent listeners.  Like I've lost my mind.

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