Top 5 album tracks from The Shins “Chutes Too Narrow”

Preamble – “Chutes Too Narrow.”

In the past, I have offered you poetry written by yours truly. Some poems are written out of joy and some out of sorrow. Often I think what would happen if I turned them into songs?

Honestly, I think that’s what happened with The Shin’s album Chutes Too Narrow. So as a change from offering you my own poetry, I thought I would discuss my 5 favourite album tracks from Chutes Too Narrow.

There are 10 tracks overall, all are brilliant. The album is a millennium classic. The sound of my teenage emotions. Some of the tracks resonate with me more than others, so I must be true to them, and how they made me feel.

This is a contender for my favourite Shins album. I love the fast paced guitars, Mercer’s high voiced pleading, and the absurdity of their lyrics.

5. “Kissing The Lipless” – Chutes Too Narrow (2003)

This track kicks off with desperate strumming and a scene with Mercer calling to see if his friend’s sheets are growing grass out of the corner’s of their bed. Talk about jumping right in there and calling your friend out.

When I was younger I thought it was a break-up song, now I think it’s about dealing with your friend after a break-up. There is only so much patience you can have, especially if the person isn’t recognising their own part to play.

“Called to see if your back, is still aligned
And your sheets, are growing grass out of the corners of your bed.
And you’ve got too much to wear on your sleeves,
It’s too much to do with me,
And secretly I want to bury in the yard,
The grey remains of a friendship scarred.”

This song is 1 part bitterness, 2 parts sass, and 9 parts salty. It kicks off an album where we see our narrator, James Mercer, disgruntled and confused about many topics. His way out he just wants to bury the friendship in the yard. Yeesh how much was his friend moaning?

4. “Pink Bullets,” Chutes Too Narrow. (2003)

This is a beautiful poem, to his first love, before he really knew what love was. I’ve included some of my favourite lines from the song below. James sings about a girl who was warm and kind to him when he needed it most.

They became inseparable yet, their parting was swift and painful. He said to finally fly apart they had to cut the kite strings. Not a very sentimental scene of departure.

“We fell in a field now it seems a thousand summers passed.”

My tender young fingers held, a decent animal.

“The years have been short, but the days were long.”

When the kitelines first crossed, we tied them into knots, to finally fly apart, we had to cut them off.

Since then it’s been a book, you read in reverse. So you understand less as the pages turn.

He finds it hard to look back, because life has only got more confusing since then. Sometimes he wishes he could just stay warm in one of those memories. However we all know how life goes, we cannot look back of we ever have any hope of looking forward.

Put the exquisite rose-tinted memory in a song, and learn to live without it’s heat.

chutes too narrow

3. “Mine’s Not A High Horse,”  – Chutes Too Narrow. (2003)

This song is brilliant. As soon as you accuse someone of being high and mighty, you end up sounding like you’re on your own high horse. Maybe that’s not necessarily the message Mercer was going for when he was pleading to be left to his own devices.

He’s aware of his affectation styled as a musician. Regardless of what anyone may say, your position in society when you are the artist is one between perdition and exoneration. Some will love you and some despise you, so why not keep your opinions to yourself?

“You were so poorly cast as a malcontent.”

“Will you remember my reply, when your high horse dies?”

“These are the muddy waters I am swimming in 
To make a living were I to drown in them 
It should come as no surprise.”

“Will you remember my reply 
one finger parallel to the sky?”

However, you cannot deny Mercer’s own sweet hypocrisy when he asks: “Will you remember my reply when your high horse dies?

2.”Saint Simon,”  – Chutes Too Narrow. (2003)

What a wonderfully silly way of looking at the world. The absurdity of collective consciousness, throughout the annals of humanity. Our reliance on words and laws created not only by those we’ve never met but some dead millennia past.

I still can’t get over the lyrics in this song as Mercer mocks both the insanity of the written word in its complexity yet never really revealing anything.

“After all these implements and text designed by intellects
So vexed to find evidently there’s still so much that hides.”

It’s wonderful when he comes to the conclusion that it is in Mercy we find safety, whether that be from faith or the love of another, and that Nothing, in all of its infinite wisdom, is warm. Could ignorance truly be bliss or has meditation slowing wormed it[‘s way into Mercer\’s world view?

“Mercy’s eyes are blue
When she places them in front of you
Nothing holds a roman candle to
The solemn warmth you feel inside.”

Either way this song makes me smile as the anthropologist in me remembers that money only works because we believe it does, there is nothing to say we are the only intelligent beings on Earth, and I’ll allow myself no mock defense, I’ll step into the night.

1. “Young Pilgrims,” – Chutes Too Narrow. (2003)

When I have moments of pure despair, my mind begs the universe to erase me from it. This may seem like a frenzied demand of a troubled soul, but it was better than the alternative. (By alternative I don’t mean life, but death at my own hands).

My depression has always provided me with an absolute truth pill of another person’s experience. When Mercer sang that he wanted to “fly the whole mess into the sea.” I didn’t just understand, my empathic nature felt his despair.

“A cold and wet November dawn,
and there are no barking sparrows,
just emptiness to dwell upon.”

“But I learned fast how to keep my head up ’cause I 
Know I got this side of me that 
Wants to grab the yoke from the pilot and just
Fly the whole mess into the sea.”

Once I heard this song, for the first time, I listened to it on repeat. It’s not a single, but it’s my favourite track on the album.

Trust me, if you’ve never listened to The Shins, give this album a spin.

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16 thoughts on “Top 5 album tracks from The Shins “Chutes Too Narrow”

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  1. I’ve thought about trying to use some of my poetry as lyrics… but I don’t think they’re lyrics. I’m learning there’s a very fine difference between lyrics and poetry. I guess some can pull it off, I can’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoyed the review. Have always liked the Shins. They were great at End of the Road festival in 2016. I wrote this about the band and “Chutes too Narrow” in my book, “I Was There – A Musical Journey” (available on Amazon if you are interested!):

    The 2000s indie revival kicked off in America, with The Strokes and The White Stripes and then shifted over to this side of the Atlantic. But there were some good things still happening back in the USA. A band I really got to like from 2003 onwards was The Shins. (Bad name for a band, but what the hell). Led by vocalist and guitarist, James Mercer, The Shins made their album debut with “Oh Inverted World” in 2001, but the first I heard of them was with “Chutes Too Narrow” in 2003. I can’t remember how I found out about them – it would have been either the NME or the monthlies, like Word, Q and Uncut. It was probably all of them, because The Shins’ music covered plenty of bases. There was an underlying indie rock guitar, but with a country twang at times, and a Beach Boys melody here and there. The band started in Albuquerque and moved to Portland. So West Coast by location and definitely West Coast by sound, with California in their dreams. “Chutes Too Narrow” was a great collection of indie/country/Californian songs with a pristine production, plaintive vocals and great tunes.
    When I first played the CD, two songs jumped out. The first was a bit of good time rock’n’roll, “Turn a Square”. I loved the opening lines, which were classic student love… the girl with the tennis shorts made of stripes.

    Simple, undeniable.

    The song got a bit more complicated as it went on, but that California freshness stayed with me.

    But the song that really woke me up to the album was “Saint Simon”. I think I was doing some work one evening, with the album playing. The start of the song was enjoyable enough, but it was the flourish half way through, and again at the end, that grabbed my attention. A choral flourish, a rush of la-la-la-dums that belonged in a chapel. Lovely and so unusual in a mid-tempo indie pop song. It was like Queen suddenly strayed into an R.E.M. ballad. It was intriguing and made me listen with more intent to the rest of the album. A lot. It became one of my favourites of the era. There wasn’t a weak track. It was R.E.M., Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, The Byrds, The Beatles, The Smiths. Take your pick. A very fine album: rich in melody, with sharp riffs and lyrics to puzzle and draw you in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for the comment John, I am totally interested in your book. If I read it can I review it here? 🙂

      I’m also so happy that someone else related to the album as strongly as I have. It’s a dream of mine to see The Shins, but they don’t come to Ireland / Europe very often.

      Thanks again! 🙂


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