I thought James Mercer could do no wrong. I thought he was a musical Jedi, untouchable, infallible. With his serene tenor voice and wry, imagery laced lyrics, he seemed to be unstoppable. Yes, the last Shin’s album “Wincing the Night Away” was their weakest to date, yet it still holds up and is filled with classic Mercer gems. Then he met the Senator Palpatine of the music industry, the villainous Danger Mouse, sucking the soul out of artists, one song at a time. And somehow, the indestructible Mercer gave in to the darkness, allowing the Mouse into his realm, tweaking and blurring anything that resembled Mercer’s music, slowly transforming them into a mangled mess of melodies.
If you haven’t figured out yet, the union of Mercer and Mouse via their musical project Broken Bells has left me angered and frustrated (“Bob Dylan Hates Danger Mouse Week” was created as a reaction to seeing another of my favorite artists allow this pest into their world). First Beck. Then Damon Albarn. Now Mercer? Enough is enough! This is like allowing a street artist to add some touch-ups to a Van Gogh! As a result, these artists are now all left as shells of their former selves, an army of musical zombies, marching to Danger Mouse’s choppy, repetitive drum loops.
The first track on Broken Bell’s debut album (let’s hope it’s their last) gives hope that maybe the Mouse didn’t hold Mercer’s sound up for ransom. Yes, it features the tinny drums and Mouse’s self-serving embellishments in the form of an annoying synth line, but Mercer’s voice is up front and center, belting out a catchy melody. On first listen, I began to wonder if Mercer’s incredible vocals were too powerful to succumb to the Mouse. Track two continues the vibe that all may still be well for James Then 30 seconds into the song Danger Mouse shoots his load right in your earhole, letting you know who’s boss. The sixties vibe that has become the producer’s staple bursts onto the scene, and that plodding bassline returns. I HATE Danger Mouse’s basslines. HATE. They are always mechanical, choppy, and simply sterile. This is the bassline that made Gnarl’s Barkley’s “Crazy” so unique at the time. Instead of being the soulful bass common in R&B, Danger Mouse switched the flip, making the backbone of the song sound nerdy. But you know what? It worked once. Stop going to the well of irritating basslines! This is also the same bassline that destroyed Beck’s “Modern Guilt”. And on Broken Bells, it once again resurfaces, and resurfaces…and resurfaces. Damn it!
From track two on you are taken on a disastrous journey that would make any Griswold cower in fear. With most of his other debacles, Danger Mouse at least finds a focus with his production. Not this time. Every song jumps from one style to the next, awkwardly moving from 80s dance to 60 psychedelia without any transition. It almost feels like the Mouse is trying to upstage Mercer, to battle him, to take him completely out of the mix. Often, Mercer is buried in reverb and filtered through distortion.
This is the biggest sin Danger Mouse has committed to date. Mercer’s best asset is his voice, yet you choose to mask it with so many effects that all that makes Mercer unique is completely erased. This is like having David Lee on your Fantasy Basketball team and opting to start Eddy Curry instead. You just don’t do it. You just don’t.