The Shins, Bush Hall London


The Shins are a cult band brave enough to be, quite literally, commercial. Before their debut album, Oh, Inverted World, marked them out as college-rock contenders in 2001, the Albuquerque band soundtracked a McDonald's ad. Six years on and the Shins are finally selling albums almost as fast as their one-time employers flog burgers.

It was US indie flick Garden State that sealed their legend, when Natalie Portman introduced co-star Zach Braff to the Shins' single New Slang with the immortal words: "You gotta hear this song. It'll change your life."

They've been living up to the hype ever since. Recently released Wincing the Night Away is their most successful album yet, the fizz-bomb songs stuffed with bittersweet lyrics that reveal a new confidence. Yet the Shins remain the most anonymous of bands, though singer, songwriter and guitarist James Mercer is an intense but sensible rebel. Dressed in an olive shirt and brown tie, he attacks the gentle drone of Sleeping Lessons, his voice rising and falling in a tide of easy warmth and edgy insecurity over the jangling melody.

New member Eric Johnson adds to the richness of the harmonies in the densely textured So Says I and Australia. But while their music is brimming with quirky personality - spacey bleeps fly over acoustic gems, rhythms take on a life of their own - the band are not. Dave Hernandez has the stance and solos of an axe hero, baby-faced keyboardist Marty Crandall a child-like enthusiasm, but their charisma dies with each song.

A cover of Modern Lovers' Someone I Care About changes everything. Mercer's hunched shoulders fall, his limbs loosen, and his voice smoulders against the dirty fun, free from the constraints of being both credible and cool.


Betty Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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