100 for 2000 – #32. The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow

To end another wonderful decade of great music, I’m going to write about ten albums from each of the last ten years, that are either great, or hold some sort of personal significance. A musical kiss off to 00s.

2003 – #2. The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow
(Sub Pop)

This album is one of my very favourites. Yet, oddly, I came to the Shins very late. I owned their first album and liked bits of it, but with Chutes Too Narrow, I fell in love with them.

I think this one is an easy sell as well, right? This was a huge record at the time. Washed up in that whole Garden State publicity, this was a mega-hit record. Ubiquitous use in soundtracks, TV shows, bookshops and coffee houses – this is the soundtrack to the 00s. That jangly guitar, oblique lyrics, pretty repetitive melodies… seen a mobile phone ad on TV lately? Chances are it sounds like the Shins.

What set the Shins a step above all the other indie bands of the time (and now) is James Mercer. His unique expression – both vocally and lyrically – gives this band an extra trump. Because, at the end of the day, the guitar playing is not great, the drumming is not out of the world, the bassplaying is pretty bog standard. It is really, really, really, really an album about the songs.

So I have listened to this record hundreds of times (probably) and I still don’t know what half the album is about. But I know what it means to me. Kissing the Lipless is all about the end of a relationship. Mine’s Not A High Horse is about arguing philosophy with other bands. So Says I is a slightly un-Shins-y lyric about…um…the collapse of civilizations? These are all guesses, I actually have no idea.

The open-to-interpretation things is great. And so rare these days with everyone trying to make a point. For a songwriter who is obviously very clever, Mercer doesn’t make a point of it. He goes for mood, not brains. Oblique metaphors aside. But even lines like “Your sheets were growing grass out of the corners of your mind” – that sets a mood. You don’t think – great metaphor James! Good one! Clever lad!

This is another well lived record. I must have listened to this album several times a day for a year straight. It is, like all albums abused in such a way, wrapped up in girlfriends, friends and enemies I had at the time. High Horse in particular – fuck there was a lot of high horses in Sydney at the time. When Mercer sings about the girl “making tea in your underwear” in Those To Come, there is one girl that comes to mind. As for Gone for Good – I know who I wished would go back to their home town and stop fucking around. It’s that kind of record.

Sure, there are more highlights, but I will just be listing them. Turn A Square, Pink Bullets…there’s not a bad song on here. And there’s only 10 of them! I took that to heart very quickly as well.

Two last things about the Shins. I know I’m very much a lyrics guy, and Mercer is like the Hendrix of lyrics. He is just masterful, and taught me so much – when to be direct, when to be guarded, when to play with an image, when to say less. I still try to learn from him. Songs I wrote before this album seem somewhat – simple.

And lastly – when they finally toured, my friend Adrian’s band got to support them. I had guitar tech-ed a little for them. So I got to meet the Shins, they signed my records and that was a blast. But AMAZINGLY, they asked if they could use a guitar if one of theirs broke a string or something. And Adrian used my Fender Mustang as his spare anyway. So there was a wonderful moment when I saw this band play Saint Simon with my electric guitar. That is an odd, happy sensation.

Advertisements