In a Nutshell
With a simple tambourine tap, a fade-in of steady acoustic strum, and ethereal ooo's wrapped in a warm blanket of reverb, "New Slang" begins, and it's easy to see why this song helped make The Shins an international success. From the first instant, it is both lovely and nostalgic.
The song is much more, though, than just another pretty tune about wanting things back that have long since passed you by. Shins' songwriter James Mercer is really expressing his wish to find a life worth leading, and he uses vivid images to do so. When the song was released, this search for meaning resonated with a lot of Gen-Xers who were aimlessly approaching thirty near the turn of the millennium. Of course, it still strikes chords today. Whether you're in a hometown you can't stand, have a relationship in your past that you wish had ended better (or not ended at all), or have strange thoughts about the buns from your local bakery, "New Slang" is a song worth knowing more about.
About the Song
||Musician(s)||James Mercer (guitar, vocals), David Hernandez (bass)
|Album||Oh, Inverted World|
|Producer(s)||James Mercer, The Shins|
Explore the ways this song connects with the world and with other topics on Shmoop
In a review of Oh, Inverted World
, All Music describes it as "a definitive indie rock album of the 2000s." However, the relevance of "New Slang" goes far beyond its presence on a pivotal indie rock
LP. This song contends with themes that the literary greats have been mulling over for a long, long time.
For instance, much like the speaker in "New Slang," almost all of the characters in Ernest Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises
want something they can never have. It's also fair to say that the character Robert Cohn—a man who acts out because he's ignored by the woman he's interested in—is a "king of the eyesores," if there ever was one. This kind of thing comes up in poetry, too. The speaker of Seamus Heaney's poem "Blackberry-Picking"
describes a picturesque memory that, by its end, has turned into something painful. Unfortunately, no matter how hard he wishes, that bad ending can never change. It's a lot like how, if someone never "took to [you] like a gull takes to the wind," it's not likely to happen in the future, regardless of how much you want it to.
This song isn't full of good cheer, but neither is Hamlet
. There's value in examining the sadder pieces of art. Fortunately, this one comes with a catchy melody.
On the Charts
2001's Oh, Inverted World
never made it on a major chart in the U.S. or overseas, and neither did "New Slang" as a single.
However, the soundtrack to the movie Garden State
, featuring "New Slang" and another Shins song, "Caring is Creepy," reached #20 on the Billboard top 200 and #1 on the Billboard soundtrack chart in 2004.
"New Slang" has found its way onto several "best songs of the decade" lists. Rolling Stone put it at #57, and Pitchfork at #62.