Fans of the collaboration Broken Bells have had a lengthy wait for the third instalment to their discography. That wait is over as Broken Bells releases Into the Blue. The album is an amalgamation of cosmic soul, chamber pop, R&B and many influences, including the Beatles and Pink Floyd, resulting in an engaging recording.
Broken Bells has always been seeded with elements of The Shins, James Mercer's daytime gig, and Brian Burton's stellar production stints. Into the Blue comes eight years after the duo's second outing, After the Disco. Individually, Mercer and Burton have worked on several projects over this period, Burton aka Danger Mouse mostly in the producer's chair and Mercer releasing 2017's The Shins album Heartworms.
Into the Blue marks the longest gap between releases for the pair, but the bonds between Mercer and Burton are displayed as strong as ever, even as they live thousands of miles apart. It is heartening to see both pick up the threads of Broken Bells and again wade into the realities of our current time, expressing their concerns and observations.
The eponymous opening track, "Into the Blue", introduces the duo's intent to hop genres and decades to create their music. Along with this opener, numerous tracks evince musical influences that are honoured and then reinvented. Found are Beatlesque moments with Shins pop underpinnings. Swirling organs and wonky guitars serve up Mercer's easily identifiable voice.
This track is followed by "We're Not In Orbit Yet one of the pre-released singles for the album, and what a track. Contained within the song is haunted longing and drama. Mercer examines how divisiveness harms each of us and stresses we are not yet able to leave the bonds of this Earth, so we better take care of our planet and each other. "Love on the Run" emerges as the centrepiece of the release. It contains an inviting piano coda with great horns and a wonky bass, giving the track an urban nightclub feel. Mercer juxtaposes a dark lyric like "How much time are we given to tear someone apart" with" the sun will shine again for all of us." In those lyrics, he displays all his disappointment in our shortcomings while hoping for a better day.
The selections "Saturdays" and "Forgotten Boy" are "do not miss "tracks. Lyrically "Saturday" is filled with teenage ennui and angst lolling about on a lazy weekend. This doesn't sound attractive, but when married to pop psychedelia and skittering drums, it becomes an earworm you cannot get out of your head. A crime Mercer has always been guilty of, with a long line of prior inescapable earworms as proof. "Forgotten Boy" flips another way. Its industrial opening twists into a trip-hop Bristol sound. The pulled-around feel of this track reminds me of Portishead or a song on an unreleased art house soundtrack. It is brilliant and almost unexpectant from Broken Bells.
Broken Bells winds up the release with "The Chase" and "Fade Away". "The Chase" is filled with acoustic guitar, Hammond organ and strings serving up chamber pop that is so alluring. Again, contrasting imagery is utilized in the lyrics. "Fade Away" closes out the album with Mercer crooning over a swirling 90's pop sonic and serving up a great closing track.
Three albums in Broken Bells now stand on their own two feet, whereas in the past, the collaboration has always been a way for James Mercer to tinker at the edges of his sonic interests that, didn't translate well in The Shins tent. Now, although The Shins stylings never go away completely, there is a genuine feeling of separation between the two entities.
With Into the Blue, Mercer has somehow pulled the hat trick of not having to decide between The Shins and Broken Bells; each entity displays different distinct lyrical and sonic facets that can cross-pollinate but still be distinct. With Burton at the production helm, the duo has on Into the Blue displayed a diversity of songwriting and tone, which has developed clear themes and style. They have explored fresh musical directions while retaining their unique signature pop sounds. All in all, Broken Bells fans will not be disappointed as the pair grow their worthy discography.