I think I speak for everyone who was really into indie music in the 2000s decade when I say that I find it almost impossible to keep up on every important album that comes out by a band I used to like, within any given year. Truth be told, I da** near could have completely missed the last Dinosaur Jr. release, but I happened to get wind of it by way of some journal or email that now seems to have escaped me.
Still, sometimes you just get intuitions, like this feeling I had earlier that we’re due for another new Shins album. I was tinged with a certain anger, too, because I think their last record Heartworms was definitely a little underrated — I personally enjoyed their foray into electronica and felt that the acoustic numbers were more tense and subtle as juxtaposed with the cheese-ball arena rock of “Simple Song” from Port of Morrow (which is otherwise also a pretty stalwart album).
So I thought about doing some like “Checking in on The Shins” type of post, especially since it’s summer now and everybody knows Chutes Too Narrow is just a classic summer album, what with that beautiful chord progression and sort of serene, New Mexican sunset feel of “Pink Bullets,” et. al. For a long time I’d kept Broken Bells, James Mercer’s side project with the ever-tepid-and-industry-compliant Danger Mouse, on the back burner in my mind of like, if this were the last music on earth, I’d probably listen to it, which is to say nothing of our hearty chums Gorillaz. Again, their m.o. tended to be pretty corn-ball, feel-good romps like “The High Road” which contain zero instrumental virtuosity (and scarcely any instrumental PERFORMANCE) whatsoever, but ultimately probably have enough solid chord changes to at least make them listenable.
Broken Bells have put out two full-length albums since 2010 but then there was one single on Spotify, too, release in 2019, called “Good Luck.” I thought I’d give a listen to that and it would almost be like “checking in on The Shins,” so to speak, seeing as The Shins are generally a strict pop act and so aren’t likely to be galvinized heavily by, say, a keyboardist, a drummer or any other non-singer member of the band.
“Good Luck” is, along these lines, a pop number, but one that addresses the issue of our unscrupulous financier of a former president: “The face of evil is on the news tonight / We see darkness over light”. The song proceeds to diagram what’s really a pretty ominous mental landscape within the mind of the songwriter: “I had another dream I had another life / No one saw the blood on my hands / When I woke I was there alone / When will it end?”
In other words, stop asking James Mercer if The Shins are going to put out another album anytime soon. He’s fighting just to stay alive, on an everyday basis, his quest infused with his ironic quip of “Have we ever really lived in better times?” See, he’s always had a penchant for the ironic, as I’m sure you’ve observed, as in the head-scratcher in “Young Pilgrims” that is “But I learned fast how to keep my head up / ’Cause I know there is this part of me / That wants to grab the yoke from the pilot and / Just fly the whole mess into the sea”.
James Mercer realizes that, even in the face of extreme, unscrupulous misdeed at the governmental level, you have to be careful what you ask for, and things could always be worse. Furthermore, he illustrates how it’s a disappointment watching the deterioration of our culture and morality blueprint in America but still, he’s got bigger demons than that he’s fighting right at home. Ultimately, then, “Good Luck” is a catchy, direct and easily digestible song of loneliness, not unlike Dire Straits’ “So Far away,” then, in a sense. Its fusion of the political and personal, hence, allows it to saunter as something worldly but also real, as, within the general understanding, it’s pretty hard to write a good song that’s purely political.
I think I speak for most liberals, along these lines, when I say I preferred blocking out our former president, within his administration, to actually acknowledging him in any way. Today, anyway, “Good Luck” effectively plays as a light, breathing time capsule, rather than a ham-handed and overly earnest snapshot of the immediate cultural foreground, which would have conjured up too much ire within conscientious minds as to actually be enjoyable.