Fight Club – Paul Weller vs The Shins
Exposed's Musical Fight Club puts two albums in the ring (okay, stereo) to duke it out for our affections. This time, Paul Weller's latest 'Sonik Kicks' squares up against US challengers The Shins…
It’s a face-off between two indie stalwarts of differing pedigree; Paul Weller has been making music since before you were eating solids, and the Modfather returns with his 11th solo offering, ‘Sonik Kicks’ this week, and is definitely the heavyweight in this fight. The contenders are The Shins, who have travelled across the pond with their fourth album, ‘Port of Morrow’. They’re slightly less prolific than the former Jam and Style Council man, having not released an album for five years previous to this week. Will a lack of big-fight practice ultimately cost them, or has the extra time spent training provided them with the perfect platform to step up into the big league?
Surprisingly, it’s The Shins making all the early running here; ‘The Rifle’s Spiral’ hints at a more polished sound than on previous records, and sees them land a couple of early blows while Weller is grappling with the experimental ‘Green’. He’s aimed for a psychedelic opening, but just doesn’t seem to have a comfortable grasp of the sound. The Shins then land a few hard punches with the brilliant and anthemic ‘Simple Song’. Weller’s on the ropes in these early exchanges…
Out of the bag though, he pulls out ‘The Attic’, one of the more Weller-y tracks on the album with plucky synths taken straight out of Beat Surrender, and whilst at first there are a few awkward glances at a 53-year-old man singing about ‘That Dangerous Age’, the slick guitars alongside delightfully unironic ‘shoop-shoops’ see him forcing the Shins back for a while. They can still hold their own though – ‘Bait and Switch’ is a subtle take on the quiet/loud dynamic, and James Mercer’s idiosyncratic vocals ensure they’re still just edging it.
It’s difficult to go the distance against a seasoned campaigner such as Weller, however and he starts to take things up a notch with the beautiful folk-synth ambience of ‘Study in Blue’, with wife Hannah making a brief tag-team appearance on backing vocals. He mixes things up again, finally displaying a mastery of the psychedelic sound he’s been craving on this record with the captivating ‘Dragonfly’. The Shins, now on the receiving end of some heavy blows, but are fast running out of ideas with tracks such as ‘No Way Down’ and ‘Fall of ‘82’ not living long in the memory, their fighting technique has got all too predictable.
As it is, The Shins kick of the final round looking wearied, but still manage to put up an impressive fight with ‘Port of Morrow’, a hypnotic ballad that draws their opponent within reach of another blow. This is where Weller is in his element though, and whilst ‘Be Happy Children’ isn’t up there with his ‘English Rose’-era heyday, it’s a beautiful, soulful ballad that delivers the knockout blow needed to see this one out.
The Verdict: Sonik Kicks – 8/10; Port of Morrow – 6/10
The plucky underdogs made an encouraging start but it wasn’t really close in the end. The assurance that comes from decades of success ultimately showed, as Weller was able to keep his opponents guessing with the variety of sounds he experiments with on this album. It’s not been his greatest fight, but he’s shown he still has the ability to do something special when he really needs to.
Words by Lewis Parker