“New Slang” by The Shins is about longing for simplicity and the pure emotions of youth amidst the complexities of adult life. It explores the idea of wanting to return to a more innocent time before the world’s weight changed our perspective and expectations. The songwriter, James Mercer, weaves a narrative of nostalgia and the desire for a significant change that could return him to a state of happiness and contentment that seems lost. The song is not about a specific person but rather about the universal experience of growing older and looking back on younger days with a mix of fondness and regret.
Mercer uses vivid imagery and metaphors to express these themes, making the song relatable to anyone who’s ever felt stuck or longed for a past self. The message is clear: there’s a beauty in the simplicity of life that we often overlook as we age.
“New Slang” Lyrics Meaning
“Gold teeth and a curse for this town were all in my mouth.” Right off the bat, James Mercer sets the tone for a narrative filled with regret and a desire to escape. The gold teeth symbolize a wealth of experiences or lessons learned, while the curse represents the bitterness or negativity that can accumulate over time in one place. Mercer is effectively saying he’s filled with both valuable insights and a damning view of his surroundings, yet he’s unsure of how these feelings surfaced.
The lyrics “Turn me back into the pet I was when we met / I was happier then with no mindset” highlight a longing for the past, a simpler time before the complexities of life took hold. This line is a poignant reflection on the loss of innocence and the yearning to return to a state of unburdened joy.
“And if you took to me like a gull takes to the wind,” speaks to a wish for effortless companionship and love that uplifts and liberates. Mercer imagines a scenario where such a connection could allow him to transcend his current state, symbolized by “jumping from my trees” and “dancing like the king of the eyesores.” This imagery is both whimsical and sad, suggesting a deep desire to stand out or be freed from judgment, yet acknowledging the unlikelihood of such a dream.
The second verse introduces “new slang when you notice the stripes, the dirt in your fries,” which can be interpreted as a newfound perspective or disillusionment with reality. It’s about seeing the world for what it truly is, flaws and all, and facing mortality (“Hope it’s right when you die, old and bony”). This awakening to life’s imperfections and the inevitable end we all face is both sobering and a call to find meaning despite these truths.
Mercer contemplates isolation (“Dawn breaks like a bull through the hall / Never should have called / But my head’s to the wall and I’m lonely”) and the challenges of seeking happiness or contentment in “the good life” that seems forever out of reach. The concluding lines, “Godspeed, all the bakers at dawn / May they all cut their thumbs / And bleed into their buns ’til they melt away,” serve as a bleak yet strangely hopeful farewell to those striving in vain for perfection or success, suggesting perhaps that there is solace in accepting life’s inherent messiness and moving forward with whatever small joys can be found.
The Story Behind “New Slang”
James Mercer has shared that the creation of “New Slang” was a pivotal moment for him, a kind of last-ditch effort to see if he could create something meaningful and impactful. He contemplated abandoning his musical aspirations altogether, feeling disconnected from the success and recognition he had once dreamed of. This backdrop of personal turmoil and the existential questioning of one’s path in life is palpable throughout the song.
The lyrics of “New Slang” reflect Mercer’s desire for a return to innocence and a simpler existence, free from the burdens and expectations that come with adulthood and professional ambition. The imagery and metaphors used in the song—such as gold teeth symbolizing valuable yet burdensome experiences, and the curse representing the negative aspects of staying in one place for too long—mirror Mercer’s own struggle with finding contentment and a sense of belonging.
This song is a personal lament and commentary on the universal human experience of growing older, losing sight of one’s dreams, and longing for a past that seemed simpler and more joyful. Mercer’s introspective lyrics and the melancholic melody capture the essence of this longing, making “New Slang” a timeless piece that resonates with listeners who find themselves at similar crossroads in life.