With its generic structure and nondescript melody, "Phantom Limb" initially seems like a poor choice for the lead single from the Shins' hugely anticipated third album. But then the counter-melody pops in at the 2:24 mark, and the simple, soothing and deceptively familiar "oh-oooohh-ooh" gives "Phantom" a lift. Curious how a failing set of verses reluctantly held aloft by an impressive spark of harmony is emblematic of an entire album, but on Wincing, the Shins suffer from an overwhelming reluctance to take chances. It makes this their weakest recorded effort to date, but the Shins are still an interesting argument. James Mercer is one of the premier indie pop songwriters in America today (lyrics like "Into the crucible to be rendered an emulsion" notwithstanding). Wincing hits many of the marks the band's peers and competitors fail at. The pen-and-ink artwork resembling a mythic Life Aquatic sea creature, and the pessimistic modern update on Sam Cooke's "Twistin' the Night Away" prove the Shins are so close to getting everything right. This time, unfortunately, the songs just ain't up to snuff. Chutes Too Narrow, the band's previous record, was timid and ferocious at the very same time. But in their big hype moment, that's given way to passivity and lack of confidence. Only "Sleeping Lessons," with its ambitious multipart production and dynamic musical construction, carries on the Chutes intensity; the rest of Wincing blends together in unassuming MOR glory. We're left to do the wincing, and the faithful can only hope a change is gonna come.
Ben Blackwell writes about music for Metro Times . Send comments to [email protected].