Broken Bells is the self-titled debut by the collaboration of Shins’ frontman James Mercer and producer de jour Dangermouse, AKA Brian Burton. It was one of the albums that we had picked to watch out for in 2010 and it doesn’t disappoint.
Listeners uncomfortable with hearing James Mercer’s tunes aligned to a barrage of bleeps and beats are going to be disappointed, but to me that is missing the point of the album. Dangermouse is a fan of classic pop and this album is his opportunity to make music with one of the great melody makers of the present day.
Opening track and lead single ‘The High Road’ kicks things off beautifully and is a sign of the good things to come. By the time you’ve listened to ‘Vaporise’ and Mercer’s surprisingly good falsetto on ‘The Ghost Inside’ you know that Burton and Mercer have produced something pretty good. On first listen I liked it but wasn’t 100% sure I loved it. However, it quickly became the album that I wanted to go back to the most over the coming week. Each listen cemented it in my mind and draw out some subtle qualities.
If the album does have a flaw it is that it is a little one paced and laconic. However, that is also one of the album’s great strengths. It is the sort of album that you want to sit down and listen to from start to finish, and then start all over again.
The album is fairly short, and may lack the substance that some people will be looking for in an album by two of the best respected names in modern music. It is, however, a focused album where the quality never drops. Both Mercer and Burton have indicated that they see Broken Bells as an ongoing project and on the strength of their debut that can only be a good thing.
It is the kind of album that doesn’t blow you away first time, but given a little bit of time it is apparent that something pretty special has been produced. No fan of sophisticated pop music will be disappointed.
By Dorian Rogers, Mar 2010