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There’s something for everyone on ‘The Worm’s Heart’

| Monday, February 5, 2018

JOSEPH HAN | The Observer

James Mercer takes his listeners down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass with The Shins’ latest album. “The Worm’s Heart” — released mid-January of this year — is a flipped version of the group’s 2017 release, “Heartworms.” In this alternate universe of Mercer’s making, slow songs become fast, fast become slow and the rules of genre are thrown out the window.

This new album may prove a hard pill to swallow for fans of “Heartworms.” Anyone expecting stylistic consistency will be sorely disappointed by Mercer’s experimental album overhaul, yet for others it presents a pleasant oddity. The project is an eccentric undertaking on the group’s never-ending road to self-discovery and Mercer’s journey to perfect his eclectic, creative character. As a result, “The Worm’s Heart” becomes an exploratory endeavor, an album that is all over the place, but not necessarily in a bad way.

The song “Heartworms (Flipped)” is one that deserves to be played on repeat until every indie pop devotee can’t stand to hear it again. The original track’s lyrics remain intact, but the addition of a throbbing synth beat adds an electrifying energy that reminds listeners of Prince tracks like “Kiss” or “Raspberry Beret.” It’s hard not to dance listening to the mix of good old-fashioned indie pop and ‘80s era disco that is “Heartworms (Flipped).”

Another standout track from the album is “Cherry Hearts (Flipped).” The original song is marred by its disorienting synth line, but the revamped version is an upbeat indie rock ballad. The Shins’ versatility and Mercer’s creative genius transform a confusing, muted number into a Beatles-inspired feel-good song.

Yet, with new heights inevitably come new lows: “The Worm’s Heart” is no exception. “Name for You (Flipped)” loses its original silly, melodic sweetness in exchange for a forced, angsty rock feel. The song slows to a gloomy pace that pales in comparison to its cheerful, ready-for-summer twin. Another track that would have been better left untouched is “Half a Million (Flipped).” It’s a jarring switch from distorted guitar and a strong bass line to a sunny, upbeat tempo. To add to its disappointment, the new version offers little in the way of originality. While being one of the most complete transformations across the two albums, “Half a Million (Flipped)” ends up sounding like a bad cover of a Beatles song.

With both hits and misses, “The Worm’s Heart” is nevertheless an album of surprises. It switches from garage band rock, to slow country charm, to disco pop in a disorientingly good way. The result is an album that, more than anything, is fun to listen to, especially in conjunction with its 2017 counterpart. For most, listening to The Shin’s latest album will involve picking and choosing the few standout tracks, but even then, there is certainly something for everyone on “The Worm’s Heart.”


Artist: The Shins

Album: The Worm’s Heart

Label: Aural Apothecary/Columbia Records

Favorite Track: “Heartworms (Flipped),” “Cherry Hearts (Flipped)”

If You Like: Death Cab for Cutie, The Decemberists, Modest Mouse

Shamrocks: 3.5/5

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