A collaboration between Shins front man, James Mercer, and producer Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, the self-titled debut album from Broken Bells delivers exactly what one would expect: plenty of catchy hooks and funky synth-driven beats, characterized by Mercer’s crooning, melodic vocals.
Burton is no stranger to mixing two sounds that would not typically be meshed together, rather it be via mash-ups (“The Grey Album,” anyone?) or infusing his hip-hop, electro-beats into the production process (Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz, Beck). Still, this marks the first time that Burton himself contributed extensively to the instrumental side of things.
Burton and Mercer have made it clear that “Broken Bells” is not simply a one off project, or Burton merely lending a hand in the production of the album. The two wrote all of the songs together, played all of the instruments excluding strings, and are already working on new material.
One track that captures the experimentation that went into the album is “The Ghost Inside.” The beat screams “Danger Mouse” from the first second, and Mercer’s high, electro-style falsetto works surprisingly well for the song.
Single “The High Road” features Mercer and Burton at their best, with ambiguous declarations that are somewhere between drug references (‘Come on and get your overdose / Collect it at the borderline’) and trying to escape from a previous way of living (‘A detour in your new life / Tell all of your friends goodbye’).
Perhaps the most impressive feat of Broken Bells debut lies in the fact that it doesn’t sound like a Shins’ record, or like a hip-hop album with Mercer singing.
When Mercer replaced the Shins’ keyboardist and drummer last year, it was clear he was seeking something new. Thanks to Burton, Mercer seems to have satiated his need for change, and the result is rather pleasing to the ears.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Produced by: Danger Mouse
Released: March 9, 2010