Song of the Day #1,482: ’40 Mark Strasse’ – The Shins

Until I heard the album that sits on top of this list (only a few weeks ago), I didn’t think anything would unseat The Shin’s Port of Morrow as my favorite album of the year.

This is the band’s fourth album and far and away their best, though if you listen to many of their fans you’ll hear just the opposite. For some people, the presence of monster hooks and indelible choruses is somehow a bad thing.

The Shins are not a band in the traditional sense but the brainchild of one man, singer/songwriter James Mercer, who has assembled various groups of musicians over the years to record under that moniker.

For this album, Mercer brought on a new drummer and keyboardist, though I wonder how much of a difference that made in the shape of the record. I suspect it’s more a question of who he’s comfortable hanging out with.

Mercer should bottle whatever mixture of inspiration and personnel led to the unique chemistry of Port of Morrow. He doesn’t take a single wrong step across a myriad of musical styles, from Radiohead to Hall & Oates, The Beach Boys to Steely Dan. Mercer’s fragile tenor resonates with emotion on every one of these cerebral yet heartfelt songs.

Mercer covers a lot of ground on Port of Morrow‘s ten tracks. Lead single ‘Simple Song,’ written for his wife, is the best love song I’ve heard in years; ‘Fall of ’82′ is a sweet thank you to his older sister, who rescued his teenage self in the early 80s; opening track ‘The Rifle’s Spiral’ is about a man who dispatches suicide bombers; and closing track ‘Port of Morrow’ is about explaining his agnosticism to his young daughter.

Today’s track, ’40 Mark Strasse,’ is told from the viewpoint of a German teenager in love with a prostitute. Mercer spent some time as a child on a German Army base, where a nearby street was nicknamed “40 Mark Strasse” by soldiers because you could buy a night with a woman for that amount.

The Shins’ first three albums are all special, each one better than its predecessor, but Port of Morrow is an instant classic — one of the best albums by anybody I’ve heard in years.

Is it all so very simple
And horribly complex
You suffer in a thimble
And there’s nothing coming next

Your mom smokes in the kitchen
Her voice a cutting drone
So creeping out, you pass the bar
Your father’s second home
That leaves you on your own

Nights I’d often watch you
Float across the grounds
Out the gate to the motorway
What secrets have you found?

You had to know I wanted
Something from you then
Too young to know just what it was
Something more than a friend
Is that you at the end

Well, you play in the street at night
You’re blown like a broken kite
My girl, you’re giving up the fight
Are you gonna let these Americans
Put another dent in your life?

My mother says your dirty
They’re gonna find you dead
But have you got that final chapter
Written in your head

Cause every single story
Is a story about love
Both the overflowing cup
And the painful lack thereof
You got the heart of a dove

But you play in the street at night
You’re blown like a broken kite
My girl, you’re giving up the fight
You’ll have to lose all them childish notions
If you’re gonna let these American boys
Put another dent in your life

You play in the street at night
You’re blown like a broken kite
My girl, you’re giving up the fight
You’ll have to lose all them childish notions
Are you gonna let these Americans
Put another dent in your life

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5 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,482: ’40 Mark Strasse’ – The Shins

  1. Amy says:

    We own this album, which I bought on a whim (for a birthday maybe?) – I’ll have to listen to it after such a strong review. I’m intrigued by the subject matter of each of the songs you’ve described, and I like the sound of this one a lot.

  2. Dana says:

    We own this album?:) Guess I will have to listen as well.:)

  3. Clay says:

    I gave it to Dana for his birthday!

  4. Amy says:

    Ha! I thought I bought it. (I wonder if I also bought it – anybody want a second copy? ;)

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