No longer a surprise, oddball collaboration, Broken Bells carry the weight of actual expectations into their second album.
What the restless chameleon-like producer Danger Mouse and Shins frontman James Mercer cooked up in 2010 was a strange and fresh dish. Four years later, they've dialed down the eclecticism, making a risk-free album, in step with all the right trends—synth rock and carefree neo-disco—but ultimately listless.
What Broken Bells do capture is a distinct mood, a slightly weary, slightly alienated, slightly reflective headspace fitting for the album's title. But an after-the-disco mood isn't necessarily Mercer and Danger Mouse turning in their best work.
Where Broken Bells was scattered, After the Disco is tight. Where Broken Bells was promising, After the Disco is expected. Where Broken Bells was thrilling, After the Disco is tame.
In between the two albums, Mercer ended five years of Shins silence with Port of Morrow, a bright and shiny pop record that capitalized on his songwriting strengths, while Danger Mouse earned more Grammy awards working with the Black Keys.
My hope is a third Broken Bells record captures the duo in an adventurous spirit, ready to make music that's new and captivating, exactly the qualities that are in short supply on After the Disco.