Updated: Sep 21
Four years after the success of Chutes Too Narrow, The Shins released their third and most commercially successful album, Wincing the Night Away. A relatively similar lineup as its predecessor, Eric Johnson (no not Cliffs of Dover Eric Johnson) was added to the group on guitar and vocals. A product of front man James Mercer's insomnia, this record has a subtle eeriness and mysticism to it which comes through very well on the softer tracks A Comet Appears, and Red Rabbits. When paired with the louder and more rockin songs Phantom Limb, and Turn on Me, it's no shock at all this album was as successful as it was and lives on through triple A radio and some of the most streamed Spotify alternative/indie rock playlists. This was The Shins masterpiece.
The record starts with the spacey and new wavey track Sleeping Lessons nodding to Mercer's insomnia. A large buildup halfway through leads to a loud second half mastered at a volume louder than even Kissing the Lipless, the loudest track on Chutes to Narrow. Out of the gate the guys have developed a new and improved sound holding closely to the bouncy indie sounds of the early 2000's but with a bit more instrumentation and attitude. The new and improved sound cuts through in Phantom Limb which features a large Phil Spector like wall of sound outro over Mercer's melodic scatting. Phantom Limb sat on Billboard's Adult Alternative Airplay chart for a total of 25 weeks peaking at number 5 cementing the new sound into ears of listeners. Later tracks such as Turn on Me elevate new sound and add a melodic guitar solo, along with a hard-hitting and angsty chorus somewhere in the same family as The Strokes.
The Shins branched out with the experimental and interesting track Sea Legs featuring some groovy synth work, and the finest bass guitar work on the album. Somewhere in the same vein as a diet Paranoid Android, the second half of the song has a nice breakdown with a simple guitar line, a synth solo and probably the best bass line in any Shins track released. Tracks such as Australia are a nice nod back to the lighter Pacific Northwest indie-pop sound that was their earlier work while Spilt Needles are a sign of what is to come in their next album. Some of Mercer's most poetic and heartfelt and Smiths-esque lyrics can be heard in Girl Sailor with some very nice guitar work by Dave Hernandez and some great vocal harmonies by Eric Johnson.
Wincing the Night Away was an important stylistic evolution for the Shins while staying in line with their roots and building upon the highlights of Chutes Too Narrow. Apart from the empty track Black Wave which adds little of interest to the record, all in all this album earns a well-deserved 9.5/10 and kept fans on their toes.