2001 was a huge year for debut records.
The Strokes released their massive break-out, Gorillaz came out all brilliant and ambitious, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club won us over with their scuzzy guitars and cool strut.
The most punk-rock fucking thing I could do in my life was something like 'New Slang'.James Mercer — SPIN Magazine, 2012
So what chance would an otherwise little known band from Albuquerque, New Mexico stand of being heard above all this?
Thankfully, The Shins shone through.
Looking back on frontman James Mercer’s music career leading up to this point, even the greatest optimist would be surprised at the reception and acclaim the band received for their debut record.
Mercer had been in bands for close to a decade with no hope of a sustainable music career in sight.
In a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone, he revealed that he’d been working part time in a light factory, drawing heavily on credit cards to buy equipment as well as pay his bills. Debt was mounting up steadily.
He was 31 when the success of Oh, Inverted World and, in particular, the single 'New Slang', opened up exciting new prospects.
"I was being honest about this melancholy that I felt at the end of my twenties," he told Rolling Stone. "I had to say goodbye to being a kid, but I didn’t know where I was headed."
That pretty much sums up the unique confluence of sadness and beauty on this album.
Oh, Inverted World feels like it effortlessly taps into a reservoir of high-summer sentiment with its glistening high croons, swirling keys, chiming guitars and sweet harmonies.
The quirky lyrics like ‘parking their cars on your chest’ ('Know Your Onion!'), ‘the untied shoelaces of your life’ ('Pressed In A Book') or 'New Slang'’s ‘king of the eyesores’ provide hints of disquiet and doubt not too far beneath the surface.
While the influence of The Beach Boys is evident, Mercer’s childhood and schooling in the UK gave early exposure to broader influences.
His father was in the Air Force so the family moved around a lot in his youth. He was able to soak up the sounds of bands like The Cure, Sex Pistols and The Jesus and Mary Chain and the ease of access to the music was an important part of the equation.
"You could discover them by accident at the supermarket," he told Rolling Stone.
They’re based in Portland these days but Albuquerque has been a part of the formation of The Shins sound and success too. In a 2012 SPIN interview Mercer said the band struggled in their hometown clubs due to poor sound systems, so he had to learn to push his voice hard to be heard.
Even so, there wasn’t much of an appetite for The Shins gentler quirky pop. Their persistence as a band Mercer says was an act of "total rebellion".
"The most punk-rock fucking thing I could do in my life was something like 'New Slang'. That was just, like, flipping off the whole city… The Shins weren’t anything when I wrote that song. Before you knew it, my whole life was upside down: I got signed, I quit my job, I moved out of town, the big relationship I’d had for five years ended. All of a sudden my whole life was up in smoke."
Natalie Portman’s character in Garden State was right in more ways than one. Sometimes an album comes along and changes everything.