Port of Morrow – a Review

It might just be me, but the start of 2012 has seemed dismally short of great pop albums.

Thankfully, The Shins have helped remedy this with their first lp for five years – and the first on Mercer’s own label, Aural Apothecary – and it’s full of hooks, great melodies and memorable tunes. Since Wincing the Night Away in 2007, the band has seen an almost complete change in line-up, with James Mercer, now the only original member.

The new album – Port of Morrow – is possibly less guitar, more keyboards oriented than previous lps, but there is no great change in sound. This is not surprising, given that The Shins have always been almost a solo project for Mercer. On this album, his voice dominates, the intelligent, clever pop lyrics front and centre.

The album opens with one of its highlights, Rifle’s Spiral. Flickering guitars, bobbing bass, and bubbling synths provide the backing to a cryptic portrait – ‘viscera unfurls as you rise from your burning Fiat’ and ‘you were always to be a dagger floating straight to their heart’.

Second track, Simple Song, the first single, is, as the title suggests, a more straightforward love song. The song builds up nicely through the first verse and bridge, with backing harmonies and layers of guitar, then falls away beautifully in the chorus, leaving Mercer’s voice and a simple keyboard line to carry the gorgeous melody.

My life is an upturned boat, marooned on a cliff, you brought me a great big flood, and you gave me a lift, girl what a gift, and you tell me with your tongue, and your breath goes in my lungs, and we float over the rift.

It’s Only Life and September are both slower in tempo, both echoing the songs of Neil Finn (this is a good thing). Bait and Switch, on the other hand, is 70s power pop – jerky rhythms, electronic burps and an urgent, manic chorus backdrop a tale of temptation and betrayal – how she got in, I’m not sure that I know, two weeks on and my spine was in traction, my eyes in a basket.

Another album highlight – No Way Down – sounds almost celebratory in tone, while its lyrics describe crooked politics and America’s economic troubles. It’s a curious combination, but the tune is fabulous.

A tiny few are having all the fun, apologies to the sick and the young, get used to their dust in your lungs.

The second half of the album is filled with slower tracks; For A Fool – with its twanging guitar and delicious swoon of a chorus, Fall of ’82 – another portrait, complete with 70’s horns, and 40 Mark Strasse – a song of unrequited love: You play in the street at night, blown like a broken kite, my girl you’re giving up the night, are you gonna let these Americans, put another dent in your life.

The title track finishes the album with more cryptic lyrics – a glimpse of the apocalypse perhaps: Life is death is life, I saw a photograph; Cologne in ’27, and then a postcard, after the bombs in ’45, must have been a world of evil clowns that let it happen, but now I recognise dear listeners, that you were there and so was I.

The Shins are not groundbreakers or experimenters. In fact, their sounds and style are pure 60’s/70’s pop. In fact, on Port of Morrow they sound most like Crowded House, hardly cutting edge, but an indication of the songwriting strength.

The Shins do what they do extremely well, and I’m happy for them to keep on doing it.


This must be the place – a Review

This must be the place is the new film from acclaimed Italian director, Paolo Sorrentino. It features a compelling central character and lots of memorable images but, unfortunately, doesn’t do very much with them.

Sean Penn is Cheyenne, a bored, retired rock star (with an uncanny resemblance to The Cure’s Robert Smith) who lives in an Irish mansion with his adoring wife, Jane (Frances McDormand). Cheyenne is quietly spoken – his voice little more than a whisper – and due to a back problem, walks with a stiffened zombie-like shuffle.

We are introduced to Cheyenne as he stumbles around Dublin suburbia, frightening shoppers, obsessing over his share portfolio, or playing matchmaker to a couple of young friends. We also meet a mother grieving over the disappearance of her son, Cheyenne’s obnoxious friend, and a rock band looking to record their first album.

When Cheyenne hears that his father is dying, he travels to New York, but arrives too late to patch up a longstanding rift between the pair. He learns that his father – a Holocaust survivor – had spent his life searching for the Nazi officer who’d terrorised him. Cheyenne decides to take up the search.

The remainder of This must be the place ventures into familiar ‘quirky’ road movie territory, as the rock star travels aimlessly across the US, meeting an assortment of oddballs and eccentrics.

While Penn’s performance is one of the film’s highlights, the uncommunicative nature of the character makes it very hard to empathise with him, or even understand his motives at times. Initially, the Frances McDormand character provides us with a ‘window’ into Cheyenne’s world, but once the ‘action’ moves to the US we are on our own.

The American portion of the film is filled with secondary characters, but none are given any great depth, and they seem to come and go without purpose. For example, Cheyenne befriends a lonely waitress and her son, and a bond seems to grow between them. However, before the relationship can develop, or acquire any purpose in the film, Cheyenne leaves them, and their appearance seems ultimately pointless.

This must be the place looks lovely and every frame appears painstakingly constructed. Yet this also lends the film an air of pretentiousness, as does the movie’s preoccupation with odd, unexplained images or scenes. At times, the film even resembles a music video, with its succession of seemingly unrelated images.

I really wanted to like This must be the place. It has all the elements of an interesting, entertaining movie, but somehow fails to deliver.

I wonder if it’s because it doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be – a serious examination of war crimes and the Holocaust, a reflection on fame and its consequences, or a simple ‘fish out of water’ comedy.

In the end, unfortunately, This must be the place is none of these.


Reviewed by Candy

Single Men of a Certain Age

There was this suspicious looking guy at the beach last weekend.

He was middle-aged, balding, a bit flabby, and alone. And he was dressed for winter – jeans, shirt with collar, boots – when it was warm day.

I saw him lingering awkwardly around the café, sipping on a bottle of water, and decided to keep an eye on him. There was something about him that was not quite right.

Eventually he found a patch of grass and squatted with crossed legs as though about to meditate. He took a notebook from his backpack and started scribbling in it, while watching the parade of joggers, bikini girls, surfers, kids and families that filled the promenade. Then he pulled out a camera and took a few pictures – of the beach, the sky, the clouds. At least, that what it seemed like from where I was sitting – they might have been sneaky pics of kids!

What was he up to? Was he a pervert? On drugs? Was he dangerous? Or just deranged?

Well, he was me! I was taking a rest after walking several kilometres from a nearby beach.

And the above observations are the thoughts I imagine pass through the minds of those not in the same demographic – i.e. male, single, middle-aged. For I’ve noticed in recent years, that the unmarried or unattached S.N.A.G. (sensitive new age guy), while acceptable in the twenty-to-thirty age group, somehow morphs into the S.M.A.C. (sleazy middle-aged creep) when he hits his late forties and fifties, at least in the eyes of many people.

My daughters, both in their mid-twenties, first alerted me to the phenomenon, when they pointed out that my habit of talking to little kids and babies at the supermarket was probably scaring the parents. A young father might be able to get away with it, or a hobbling, silver-haired octogenarian, but not a balding, spectacle-wearing middle-aged male like myself.

I have since kept well away from playgrounds, toy stores or any such places, lest I be nabbed as an undesirable, my repulsive visage flashed across the pages of the Sunday Mail.

But the phenomenon is not confined to the ‘relationship’ between the single S.M.A.C. and children. For example, I’ve noticed that younger women react differently to single middle-aged men, as though the man’s marital status might represent a serious threat to their physical wellbeing.

This is well illustrated by a story my daughter told me. She once worked in a small office in which there worked many young women. There were also a couple of married guys, a few older married women, and a fifty-year old guy who lived alone. He collected jazz records, liked to travel and go to the opera. My daughter befriended him – after all, he seemed nice enough and talked about interesting things.

Unfortunately, my daughter was unaware that this man – due to age, gender and marital status – was ‘untouchable’. Her female colleagues ridiculed her – and the poor S.M.A.C. – until she desisted from talking to him again.

In John Irving’s book, The World According to Garp, Garp’s mother, Jenny – a single mother by choice – refers to herself as a ‘sexual suspect’.

I think this term sums up the S.M.A.C phenomenon. ‘Normal’ men do not reach middle age alone. There must be something wrong with them. They are diseased, damaged, deranged or dangerous. They are sexual suspects!

Of course, without hard evidence, such a hypothesis is bound to make huge generalisations, reach faulty conclusions, and be warped by personal experience. I can only say in my defence that I hope these are an unconnected collection of observations.

But spare a thought for the single S.M.A.C next time you see a movie or TV show about a child molester, serial killer or random pervert. Is he a middle-aged male? Is he single? Balding? Does he wear glasses?

No wonder people run away from me!


by Max Funt