The dream team pairing of James Mercer of The Shins, a master of bittersweet song writing classicism, and Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton was always an enticing one. Pity then that this second collaboration between the two is so workmanlike and short of memorable songs.
Burton has previously worked with Gnarls Barkley, The Black Keys, and roused Norah Jones out of a reverie on LIttle Broken Hearts two years ago. Most, if not all, ears await the results of his studio time with his most recent clients - U2. On After The Disco Burton does his smooth, dreamy production thing – chunky, resonating bass lines, tasteful organs runs, compressed and warm drums - as Mercer does his thing - sweet-voiced, mid-tempo songs.
When it’s good, and Perfect World with its Jan Hammer synth notes is undeniably lovely, it is is very good indeed but the lush strings, trebly and twanging guitars tend to blur and become uninvolving and soporific.
In places After The Disco has the carefully modulated ennui of French duo Phoenix and in other places (No Matter What You’re Told) it merely sounds like a Raconteurs' b-side, and isn't Leave it Alone just another take on Little Black Submarines by The Black Keys only without any of the explosive catharsis?
Ironically it is only on the closing song, the gutsy The Remains of Rock & Roll, that Burton and Mercer loosen up and have something to say.
It's pleasant alright but Broken Bells could do with a lot more cracks and imperfections.