15 Years Ago: The Shins Arrive With ‘Oh, Inverted World’
The Shins’ debut album, ‘Oh, Inverted World,’ sorta just snuck out in 2001. The band had been enjoying a quiet buzz around Albuquerque since their formation in the mid-‘90s. But nobody really expected much from that first album. After all, frontman James Mercer’s songs were like the most delicate portions of ‘60s pop-rock wrapped in new-millennium indie rock. Not exactly commercial gold. Sure, it would have its fans. And it did, among rock snobs and the like. But it didn’t get much outside attention until Natalie Portman declared that Oh, Inverted World’s "New Slang" would change your life in the 2004 movie Garden State.
Is "New Slang" a life-altering song? No. Is anything on the Shins’ debut album? No. The band doesn’t make life-changing music. But it does make finely crafted indie-pop that’s a little bit retro (but not as retro as it often thinks), somewhat melodic (but not as melodic as it often thinks) and well aware of its standing among indie rock’s elite (they’re pretty much right on with this).
The songs on Oh, Inverted World pull from various sides. Mercer keeps ambitions relatively low, writing songs about love and life with a little bite. Its best tracks – the somewhat ghostly acoustic shuffle of "New Slang," the semi-soaring "Caring Is Creepy" (also on the Garden State soundtrack) – don’t reveal much. Mercer’s words aren’t always direct, and too often Oh, Inverted World comes a little too close to Elliott Smith’s playbook. But it’s a good album and a solid start.
Not that too many people noticed on June 19, 2001, when the album came out. It wasn’t until Garden State put it on enough people’s radars that the record started selling. (None of the songs got much airplay either, until the movie introduced radio to a couple of them.) But there was enough buzz to stir interest in Oh, Inverted World’s follow-up, 2003’s Chutes Too Narrow, which cracked the Top 100. The debut remains the group’s purest record. And in a way, it’s their best. But it all depends on how you look at it. It won’t change your life or anything like that.
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