- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Despite their association with the “Garden State” soundtrack and the highly overrated Natalie Portman, I dig the Shins.

Via Pitchfork, I find the Portland pop darlings are streaming “Phantom Limb,” the lead single of their forthcoming album “Wincing the Night Away,” which drops Jan. 23.

The song is … OK.

It’s leaving me a bit cold.

While it’s pleasantly Shins-y enough, it’s not very meaty. It easily could’ve been on their first album. Or their second. Which brings to mind an age-old question of really good bands: How much “progress” should we expect from them from album to album?

The Beatles set a very high standard for this — probably an unsurpassable standard. But then there are artists like Ryan Adams, from whom many hardcore fans basically demand the same album every time.

Reviewing the Strokes’ sophomore album, in 2003, Rolling Stone’s David Fricke compared it to the Ramones’ second album, in the sense that it was a “perfect twin” of the first. And he was perfectly cool with that.

I suppose I am too. Not many songwriters are able to make leaps and bounds in perfect two-year intervals. Sometimes it takes the benefit of hindsight to see how well an album ages — how an artist’s output stacks up against itself. And even when they succeed, the effort often leaves them feeling trapped in a corner, or creatively tapped out. What next? Is there any juice left on the curveball?

Bono once told the Chicago Tribune’s Greg Kot that, after U2’s experimental and semi-maligned “Pop” album, the band felt overly “Kid A’d” — meaning they’d ransacked their brains, Radiohead-style, for fresh musical ideas and come up snake-eyes.

Such is the creative process.

Such was “Let it Be.”

All of which is to say that I’ll very likely be fine with the new Shins album once I hear the whole thing.

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