The Shins – The Worm’s Heart review

Secret Meeting score: 45

by Philip Moss

James Mercer really knows his way around a melody. Chute’s Too Narrow is as close to early noughties indie pop perfection as you’re going to find, and 2007’s Wincing The Night Away – their most realised collection – was in the pile of records I took when I was buying my new turntable because Joe Chiccarelli’s production is absolutely on point. And that’s something I’ve often wondered since- did something happen there? Why would Mercer leave behind a creative partner that clearly brought something so special to the party? But, Mercer’s always come across as a bit of an odd character. First, he sacked The Shins’ entire original line up. Plus, despite being a brilliant live act where an hour and a half can fly by in a fit of dancing and singing, they barely choose to tour, particularly in the UK where they’re absolutely adored. And after last year’s LP, Heartworms, which aside from the glorious reflections of Mildenhall was bang average, he’s decided to re-release the record, but ‘flipped’. Whatever that means?

Well, according to the press release, the fast songs will be played slowly and the slow songs will be played fast. Eh? Why would you do that? Average songs are average songs. If you slow them down they’ll just be slow, average songs. Also, the aforementioned Mildenhall is pretty perfect anyway. Why would you change that? So it’s fair to say, I was pretty hesitant before spinning the new version, The Worm’s Heart.

Cherry Hearts was a song from Heartworms which probably suffered from my biggest gripe regarding Mercer’s output over the last few years – the overuse of flashy electronics which don’t actually add anything to the song. Thankfully, they have all been stripped from the flipped version. However, what we now have in its place is a ‘straight forward’ guitar song that falls somewhere in between The Bluetones and Cast, and a lyric which pretty much summarises this whole project: ‘I’ve done a crime of wanting something that never could stay.’  The concept of this record made no sense before I listened to it and, on the whole, it makes no more sense now.

Half A Million’s faux reggae is the worst thing Mercer’s ever put to tape. Over rumbling drums, the falsetto of the original album opener (but closer of this flipped version, Name For You) has been replaced by an almost spoken word vocal. But no amount of flippin’ change could rescue its dire opening lyric – ‘Rolling down the ancient high street you’ll find in the mirror reflects a woman in her prime.’ 

However, the record’s saddest moment is the new recording of Mildenhall, which has been absolutely butchered into an impression of Gaz Coombes doing an impression of Marc Bolan. A glam rock mess that has lost all the reflective, emotive and relatable beauty of its original form.

Dead Alive is the best of a bad bunch and begins its new life over piano chords as Mercer sings of ‘weird angles coming over the wire,’ before the marching drums and harmony vocals of the Heartworms’ version make way for orchestral strings and a sub bass which gives lyric a more meaningful tone. But simply makes me ask, why was this version not just put onto last year’s original release of the LP?

There’s a reason this process isn’t common practice in the music industry, and unless this is an obligation to break their current record deal, I can’t see any justification for its existence. For Shins fans, I guess it’s one to add to the collection. But I can’t imagine anyone being too flipped out if they let this mish mash of ideas pass them by. ‘I’ve had this crazy idea,’ Mercer sings on So Now What, and I couldn’t have put it better myself.