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ISSUE 117 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 11/21/2003

Kicking new shins

By Jonathan Graef
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 21, 2003

Those who pay attention to pop music reviews have most likely run into the term “sophomore jinx.” The term refers to a band that has put out a well-received debut album, and who consequently faces pressure to repeat the success of their debut.

Usually, bands give way to the demands that the world has imposed on them and make an album not as good as the first. This means that the band must bounce back with a third album that eclipses both the disappointment of the second, as well as the impact of the first. (The Clash is a good example of this pattern, with their incredible self-titled debut album, their mediocre sophomoric attempt “Give ‘em Enough Rope,” all followed by their amazing third album “London Calling”).

With every rule there are, of course, exceptions. An example of an exception to the “sophomore jinx” is the new album by The Strokes. Their second album, titled “Room on Fire,” was one of the most anticipated rock follow-ups of the last few years. The critical reception of “Room on Fire” has been good – most critics say that “Room” is a solid listen, if not too much like the band’s first record.

Another recent example of defying the sophomore jinx is a group called The Shins. The Shins from Albuquerque, N.M., formed in 1997. When the group released its debut album under Seattle-based Sub Pop Records, “Oh, Inverted World,” the album was hailed for its unique song structures, glowing melodies and overall brilliant sound. This was a record both Beatles fans and Death Cab for Cutie fans could enjoy.

Needless to say, all eyes in the indie-pop community were on The Shins. When their second record, “Chutes Too Narrow,” was released in October, it was hailed as an eclectic departure from “Oh, Inverted World” that still retained the admirable qualities of that record. Indeed, the songs from “Chutes” are more diverse, and less bouncy than “World,” but are still well written, intelligent and, perhaps most importantly, catchy.

The Shins have been touring following the release of “Chutes Too Narrow,” and last Friday came to First Avenue in the Twin Cities. Despite having a sick drummer, a no-show opening band that had to be replaced, and technical problems with singer James Mercer’s guitar, The Shins pulled off an incredible show.

The first song of the set was “Kissing the Lipless,” which is the first track off of “Chutes.” The song set the mood for the evening, with a fast, Who-like acoustic guitar sound coming from Mercer and a steady, ever-building beat courtesy of drummer Jesse Sandoval. Combined with subtle slide-guitar work from Dave Hernandez, as well as atmospheric keyboards and bass from Marty Candall, the song became one fated to remain in one’s head for days. The Shins then alternated cuts from “Chutes” and “World.” The crowd was bouncing to the glorious pop beats from both albums.

The show was almost cut short when the ill drummer raced off the stage. When the band returned, Candall joked about having to hold back Sandoval’s hair. A few sarcastic references to Prince later, the band was in the midst of a generous encore, which consisted of the more well-known songs from “World.”

Despite all of the difficulties that could have resulted in disaster, The Shins managed to put on a successful show. If The Shins play this well under strenuous circumstances, imagine what they could do at full power.

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