The Shins (above) make the kind of '60s pop rock that never existed, a brand of revisionist guitar glee that sounds like Crowded House just got its MFA. The band's Phil Ek-produced sophomore release, Chutes Too Narrow, is a guitar-driven party record, peppered with surprises like "Gone for Good," a country-tinged tearjerker filtered through British Invasion-era pop that could easily have been recorded by Wilco circa Summerteeth.
Once you get past the catchy melodies and bouncing beats, guitarist/vocalist/songwriter James Mercer's lyrics demand attention. Wise without being wise-assed, clever without being cloying, Mercer has a libretto that can turn a good-time romp like "So Says I" or "Fighting in a Sack" into a wordy boogie. While humor informs much of the lyrical content, the chuckles never detract from the sincerity and emotional urgency.
Live, the Shins promise a rollicking good time, tightly orchestrated and joyfully executed. On the roadhouse rocker "Turn a Square," Mercer wonders aloud: "Have I left my home just to whine in this microphone?" Maybe so, but with music this fun, we'll line up around the block to listen.
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