From its brightly coloured, die-cut artwork, there’s something about Chutes Too Narrow that has always struck me as cartoon-like. I don’t mean that in a bad way, after all cartoons aren’t as tightly-bound by logical linear narratives as other forms of story telling, which in turn means that the suspension of belief is almost a given.
As the artwork suggests, Chutes Too Narrow is a brighter and more confident release than its predecessor, and as such is a fine follow-up to 2001’s Oh, Inverted World, with the influences of Love and Syd Barrett still very much to the fore. Perhaps there’s a few more riffs, and the drums are slightly further back in the mix, but I’ve always considered that The Shins’ first two albums could very well be regarded as two halves of the same whole.
To me the key track on Chutes Too Narrow is “Young Pilgrims”, which is a nicely downbeat yet tuneful singalong. The album is littered with similarly great moments, such as the la da da backing vocals behind “Saint Simon”, the barely contained joy of “Kissing The Lipless”, or the jangly guitar throughout “Fighting In A Sack”. James Mercer’s instantly recognisable vocals were The Shins’ USP from the very beginning, and on Chutes Too Narrow he confirms that the praise he received for his vocals on Oh, Inverted World was no fluke. It isn’t just Mercer either, as despite a line up change (Dave Hernandez returning to the band to replace his own replacement), the whole band are at the top of their game on The Shins’ second album, and it’s almost heartbreaking to think that this line up would have just one more album in them, although as that album was the slow-burning brilliance of 2007’s Wincing the Night Away, we can’t complain at that.
Even though it boasts some genuinely downbeat moments, Chutes Too Narrow is a happy and positive sounding album. Like it’s predecessor, it’s not an album that pleads with the listener to be taken too seriously, and that’s what I like about it. Too many bands try desperately to make the the listener feel miserable in the name of being taken seriously, but when I hear Chutes Too Narrow, I can’t help but smile.