“Sealegs” offers hope to someone adrift and alone (“The choice is yours to be loved/Come away from an emptier boat”). Isolated lines empathize with lonely people (“A Comet Appears”), tell someone to keep dreaming (“Girl Sailor”) and ponder why people mistreat each other (“Turn On Me”).
There’s an angry edge to the intolerant “Sleeping Lessons.” Numbness and futility haunt “Australia,” which imagines marriage as a lonely prison. Other songs contain random, disjointed references to sexual intimacy, moral relativism, unhealthy relationships, “pilfered booze” and a dog getting whacked by a locomotive. In general, it seems life is meaningless and beyond our control, giving way to postmodern subjectivity. An amoral track describes a rebellious teenager who “spat in her teacher’s eye” (“Pam Berry”). On “Red Rabbits” lead singer James Mercer uses a crass term for urination and says, “I don’t know/I might just give the old dark side a try.”
This disc should have been packaged with a decoder ring or top-secret lyric descrambler. We’ve reviewed some cryptic discs over the years, but Wincing the Night Away is one of the trippiest. Equally odd is the paradox between the band’s sound and its message. The Shins’ playful, ethereal melodies have a pleasantly experimental, occasionally retro-psychedelic flavor. Yet this act’s enigmatic poetry is full of despair and melancholy. Not worth the effort.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.