Broken Bells – Broken Bells (Columbia) 08/03/2010
March 9, 2010 by Chris Cummins
Collaborations can be great, but they can be also be equally bad; for every Bowie and Iggy moment in music there is a Bowie and Jagger moment. But when James Mercer and Danger Mouse announced they were getting together the expectant result would surely be an indie sound clash that would meld Mercer’s plaintive call with Mouse’s production skills, thus bridging the gap between lo-fi indie tendencies and effects twiddling production.
And It does. Often when you try and find the middle ground the essence of what is to the left and the right is lost. Broken Bells manage to cling onto both and bridge the gap with the precision of Brunel. Yet, and this is a big yet, fans of Mercer’s outfit The Shins will walkway from this album feeling slightly happier.
Broken Bells are, like a lot of bands, predominately defined by the singer and considering they have such a prevalent vocal and lyrical presence in Mercer its hard to consider this as straight forward 50-50 collaboration. Yet, Mouse’s influence is clear, especially on the pushing of Mercer into a Yeasayer-esque falsetto on ‘The Ghost Inside’. But this is the only glaringly obvious Mouse incident, everything else seems to be Danger Mouse working his magic over already bewitching tunes.
As a result, the album lacks the prevalent beats you may expect from such a high profile collaboration, but then this is the guy that mixed The White Album with Jay Z’s The Black Album, so I’m sure he’s more than happy to have the lazy ’60s psychedelic influences and the acoustic strumming that can be found throughout, especially on ‘Your Head is On Fire’ and on the lead single ‘The High Road’, which finds Mouse’s glitchy keyboard complimenting the downbeat narrative perfectly.
If you thought this album would sound like Mercer singing over DJ Shadow era UNKLE tracks (I’m not blaming you, Gnarls Barkley ‘Remember When’ was a complete DJ Shadow rip-off) then you’ll be disappointed. Instead, for the most, it finds the perfect common ground between songwriter and producer. The core of the songs remain, but everything around it is done oh so slightly that much better giving them the lasting resonance and depth that many artists fail to create by themselves. This is definitely a Bowie and Iggy moment.