Broken Bells

Broken Bells

It’s highly possible that I don’t know enough about either party, but Shins frontman James Mercer hooking up with maverick producer Danger Mouse to create an album together is a bit out of the blue. Though, it’s rather nice to imagine musicians meeting backstage at festivals, or parties, or in hot tubs, or whatever, happily clicking with each other despite their disparate outputs, to the point where a jam session and debut album, with social-media marketing strategies abounding, is the only possible outcome. Oh, what their lives must be like.

Broken Bells is the eponymous debut from Mercer and Danger Mouse. It has ten tracks and pleasant album artwork but no lyrics to speak of, so I had to endure websites with pop-ups promising greencards and cursor embellishments to suss out what was actually being said with this album. With lyrics discovered and pop-ups defeated, I wasn’t sure I understood them any better. At which point I began to fear for the eventual quality of this review.

Overall, patronising as it sounds, Broken Bells shows promise for these two as a musical operation. There are similarities in tempo and texture so the songs take time to grip to you. Four tracks will go by if you let your mind wander. Eventually they start to separate into singular melodies, but perhaps a stronger album would’ve achieved this on the initial listen.

Their delivery is assured, the darkness in the lyrics easily communicated through Mercer’s high but muscular voice. There’s a dreamy, sixties quality to the album – Sailing To Nowhere makes good use of the Hammond organ, The Mall & Misery has a jauntily mod-ish underlying melody and the layered vocals and bouncing keyboards in Your Head Is On Fire beg to be accompanied by some woozy lava-lamp visuals. Opening track and lead single The High Road has that same appealingly up-and-down sound employed in Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Adina Howard’s Freak Like Me, and Babybird’s Bad Old Man, which it particularly resembles in places, till it trails off to a frustratingly bland ending.

I hate the music of The Shins so felt dubious about Broken Bells, but listened with an open mind. I wasn’t overcome with intense passion, but I think I’ve talked myself round to more or less liking it while writing this. If you’re less of a complete fusspot than me, if you like Mercer’s voice, or if collaborations between cool people generally get you going then you’ll probably love it.


  1. they colab on a nice track together on ‘the dark night of the soul’ album from last year, if you can find that album on the internets

  2. I have a feeling I’d heard about that Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse collaboration somewhere, so thanks for the link Joel!

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