Broken Bells, Broken Bells

Broken Bells, Broken Bells

Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse) has no fear of overexposure.  Whether it’s producing a Damon Albarn vehicle or linking up with rock icons Beck and Sparklehorse, it really feels like Danger Mouse has his hand in everything. This time around, mutual respect has brought Burton and The Shins’ frontman James Mercer together to form Broken Bells.

While Broken Bells might technically be a collaboration, make no mistake: this album works because of Burton’s arrangements. Those familiar with Danger Mouse shouldn’t expect a departure from the typical “Danger Mouse” sound. Broken Bells continues to illustrate Burton’s dedication to his unique sound and features many songs that could be mistaken for tracks off of previous work like The Good the Bad and the Queen or Demon Days.

Think of Broken Bells as an evolution rather than a revolution for Burton. What makes Broken Bells worth listening to isn’t the music that Burton weaves, but Burton’s ability to breathe new life into Mercer’s voice.  It’s been hard for me to appreciate Mercer’s vocals since until now they’ve been hidden behind the increasingly bland “indie-rock” sound.  Outside of a few filters and effects, though, Mercer’s voice remains mostly unaltered.

Once placed in the front of the unmistakable melodies of Danger Mouse, however, Mercer’s voice takes on a whole new dimension. This difference is immediately apparent in “The High Road,” where Burton’s lush arrangements display Mercer in ways The Shins are incapable of doing. Mercer needed the right musical backdrop, and simpler songs like “October” illustrate just how well Mercer’s vocals pair with Burton’s musical direction.

Even when Broken Bells struggles, it still manages to keep its head above water.  A misfire like “The Ghost Inside,” which sounds like a Gnarls Barkley leftover, remains interesting thanks to Mercer’s falsetto.  “The Mall and Misery” bookends what turned out to be a really nice album despite no attempt to redefine the “Danger Mouse sound.” How long can Burton keep this up before we get tired of it? I don’t know, but as long as he continues to choose the right people to work with, I’ll continue to look forward to his next album.

(Sony Music Entertainment -- 550 Madison Avenue, New York, NY. 10022;; Broken Bells --
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Review by . Review posted Friday, May 28th, 2010. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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