For their first album as Broken Bells since 2014, James Mercer of The Shins and Brian ‘Danger Mouse’ Burton set out to pay tribute to the vast amount of influences they have in common. The record sees them casting a wide net, presenting a palette that embraces sounds from across the last six decades of popular music.
The album’s range is considerable indeed. The opening title track recalls vintage psychedelia, slowly plunging riffs drenched in echo, bells chiming in the spaces left by strums of acoustic guitar. ‘We’re Not In Orbit Yet’ follows, clearly indebted to lavish 1970s MOR, succeeded in turn by a stripped-back folk-rock sound on ‘Invisible Exits’. Elsewhere, ‘One Night’ ups the tempo with a punchy and dark cut of 80s-flecked synth-pop, and ‘Forgotten Boy’ drops down deep into moody trip-hop.
They’re happy to mash those genres together, too, as on closer ‘Fade Away’, in which a lush orchestral pop song is augmented by gloomy guitar and piano riffs that recall The Cure at their gothiest, while ‘Love On The Run’ is an epic seven-minute centrepiece that encompasses epic soul, dreamy pop and plaintive piano balladeering. One of his generation’s most feted producers, Burton’s work on the record meets his usual standards; every one of the record’s myriad of sounds is arranged in perfect balance.
It is a testament to the duo’s expertise that the record can encompass so much without sounding remotely fragmented. For all the album’s stylistic diversity, Broken Bells’ own sound – hewn over 13 years of collaboration between Mercer and Burton – has the strongest presence of all. Almost everything is blanketed in their signature poppy melancholia, the more soulful qualities of Mercer’s vocals pushed as ever to the forefront.
Whether ’80s pop or ’60s psychedelia, every style that’s on the record is presented on Broken Bells’ terms. This works wonders for the album’s consistency. However, it also has its drawbacks. Often, the sheer thrill that should come with the album’s stylistic jumps is blunted by the uniformity the two impose.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the record’s most exciting moments come when they break out of their own mould a little and indulge. On ‘Saturdays’, for instance, when they let loose and slip into a full-blown psychedelic wig-out, tumbling drums and syrupy bass. For the most part, however, while never less than beautifully realised, there’s a sense that the record has more dramatic and intense potential that’s left frustratingly untapped.
- Release Date: October 7, 2022
- Record Label: AWAL