For their first album as the Broken Bells since 2014, The Shins’ James Mercer and Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton decided to pay homage to the vast amount of influences they have in common. The record sees them cast a wide net, presenting a palette that embraces the sounds of the past six decades of popular music.
The range of the album is indeed considerable. The opening title track is reminiscent of vintage psychedelia, slowly plunging riffs drenched in echo, bells ringing in the gaps left by acoustic guitar strumming. ‘We’re Not In Orbit Yet’ follows, clearly indebted to the sumptuous 1970s MOR, followed in turn by a stripped down folk-rock sound on ‘Invisible Exits’. Elsewhere, “One Night” picks up the tempo with a punchy, dark cut of speckled ’80s synth-pop, and “Forgotten Boy” dives deep into moody trip-hop.
They’re also happy to blend those genres together, as on the closer “Fade Away,” in which a lush orchestral pop song is complemented by dark guitar and piano riffs reminiscent of The Cure at their most gothic, while “Love On The Run” is an epic seven-minute centerpiece that encompasses epic soul, dreamy pop, and plaintive piano ballads. One of the most acclaimed producers of his generation, Burton’s work on the record lives up to his usual standards; each of the disc’s myriad sounds are arranged in perfect balance.
It’s a testament to the duo’s expertise that the record can encompass so much without seeming fragmented from a distance. For all the album‘s stylistic diversity, Broken Bells’ own sound – forged over 13 years of collaboration between Mercer and Burton – has the strongest presence of them all. Almost everything is covered in their signature poppy melancholy, the more soulful qualities of Mercer’s voice pushed as always to the fore.
From 80s pop to 60s psychedelia, every style on the record is presented in Broken Bells terms. This does wonders for the consistency of the album. However, it also has its drawbacks. Often the sheer thrill that should accompany the album’s stylistic leaps is dulled by the uniformity the two impose.
It’s perhaps no coincidence that the record’s most exciting moments come when they break out of their own mold a bit and indulge. On “Saturdays,” for example, when they let loose and slip into a full-fledged psychedelic wig-out, tumbling drums and syrupy bass. For the most part, though, though never less than beautifully realized, there is a sense that the record has more dramatic and intense potential that remains frustratingly untapped.
- Release date: October 7, 2022
- Record company: A.W.A.