The Shins: The Worm's Heart review – country charm turned spiky rock – and vice versa

(Aural Apothecary/Columbia)

A little under a year ago, James Mercer released the fifth Shins album, Heartworms. Now he’s released the same album, in a fashion he describes as “flipped” – that is, the running order is reversed, and every song is in a different style to the original. By and large, the top-line melody remains intact, but everything else – instrumentation, tempo – is altered. It’s neither better nor worse than Heartworms – which itself was very much a mixed bag – but the pleasures come in different places. The Fear, for example, was the downbeat closer to the original album, a rambling low-key reminiscence about depression.

Here, it’s beefed up, the dancing ripples of acoustic guitar replaced by chopping waves of electric, surging on like the Velvet Underground.

Other songs don’t fare so well: Mildenhall, about growing up as a US air force brat in East Anglia, was previously an entirely charming piece of gentle country. It’s now garage rock, with 96 Tears-style organ drowning out almost everything else. Guitar songs become synth songs (and synthpop is not one of Mercer’s great strengths) and synthpop songs become guitar songs. And then there are the songs that no amount of tinkering can change: Rubber Ballz appeared to have been written solely so Mercer could use the line “Can’t get her out of my bed” as often as possible; recasting it as an acoustic piece makes it no less slight. Between these two reasonable albums, there’s one really rather good one fighting to get out.


Michael Hann

The GuardianTramp

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