It’s happened to me more times than I like to think – I discover a great band with a small but interesting discography, I’ve just missed them on tour, but great things are expected of their next album. So I patiently wait. And wait. Finally the album is released. It’s not quite as good as what’s gone before.
Wincing the Night Away starts off promisingly enough, with “Sleeping Lessons” and to be honest the first third of the album zips along merrily. Then after “Sea Legs” it starts to to creep in, the feeling that on their approach to the mainstream James Mercer and his bandmates had lost the charming sloppiness that gave them the skewed greatness that they had been previously blessed with. The production has been polished up, the band as a whole has been tightened, but in doing so, something had slipped away.
Or so I thought.
Three years later, I realised I was wrong.
In fact I can’t recall the last time I was so incorrect in my initial assessment of any album.
For me the key to enjoying Wincing the Night Away was the splendid “Turn on Me”, a song that does not make its greatness obvious within the first few listens, but it slowly and surely gains a foothold in your psyche and refuses to let go. Whereas previously I had all but dismissed the final two thirds of Wincing the Night Away as little more than modern alt-rock by numbers, here was a glimmering audio-gem which had firmly lodged itself into the part of my brain specifically reserved for great songs that make me smile. It wasn’t alone either, as hot on the heals of my newfound appreciation of “Turn on Me” came the realisation that “Girl Sailor” is just as good if not even better, thus opening up the last two thirds of what I had previously considered a dense and foreboding album. With an appreciation of these two key tracks, the whole of Wincing the Night Away beautifully unfolds and reveals itself to not be as plain and straightforward as I had previously assumed. Compared to the brightness and colour of The Shins previous albums, Wincing the Night Away is an album which comes across as considerably more monochromatic, but whereas I had originally equated it to being rather dull, it has since revealed itself to be considerably more subtle, detailed and interesting than I had originally appreciated.
Apparently James Mercer wrote Wincing the Night Away as a reflection of the human condition. Now I had initially dismissed that as a rather poncy press-bite to attempt to appeal to the bleeding-heart alt-rock hordes, but the more I listened to and appreciated this album, the more I understood what he was getting at. My love of Wincing the Night Away coincided with a period of change and uncertainty in my life which had left me a little more sensitive and vulnerable than I had been previously. Listening to this album makes me feel better and a little less unsure about what the future holds for me. I can’t guarantee that it will do the same for you, but as far as I’m concerned, Wincing the Night Away is an album that will be staying with me a very long time indeed.