The Falcon | Volume 83, Issue 53
Published 5/29/13 | Log In
New album by Death Cab frontman goes into new territory musically and lyrically
By CHRISTINE COOK, Guest Reporter
Published: October 31, 2012
After creating and carrying one of the most well-known acts of indie rock, a debut solo album is bound to come tacked with expectations. For Ben Gibbard, fans were expecting a personal, diary-like outpour of emotions.
With his first solo album, Former Lives, Ben Gibbard, frontman for Death Cab for Cutie, and half of The Postal Service, offers just a brief look into his capability.
Gibbard said of the album, “These songs span eight years, three relationships, living in two different places, drinking then not drinking.”
After a highly public divorce from indie princess Zooey Deschanel, years of alcohol abuse and a dramatic transformation from chubby engineering major with black frame glasses to a marathon-running vegan, fans were expecting some sort of explanation. What happened to that former life of yours, Ben?
Thankfully for Death Cab fans who hate the idea of competition, the album sounds different than any of their discography (the melodic tunes of Codes and Keys aren’t too far out of reach, but it goes nowhere near Transatlanticism’s grandiosity, or the emotional turmoil of We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes).
Gibbard picks up a different tune on this one: delivering vaguer life messages and stories of love as well as trading in his electric guitar for a more acoustic sound.
The standouts on the album are the personal ones that appear to be born of firsthand experience, even if in fact they’re not.
The second track, “Dream Song,” sets the tone for the rest of the album, giving the first glimpse into what could possibly be Gibbard’s own experiences.
“He has this dream he’s being pursued by every woman he ever knew, but at first grasp, he wakes and gasps.”
In true Northwest musician fashion, his debut single “Teardrop Windows” is an ode to Seattle: a song about the Smith Tower, who is lonely and wondering why nobody lives in him anymore.
On “Oh Woe,” Gibbard begs for an ex-lover to leave him be. The lyrics may very possibly be alluding to his recent divorce: “I thought that I would give you a try, but you’re nothing like the way you look in all those famous songs and books.”
However, we can be sure that some songs are not inspired by Gibbard’s own life. “Bigger than Love,” a duet with LA singer-songwriter Aimee Mann, is based off the relationship of author F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda.
Still, many of the songs beg the question: is this fact, fiction or generic storyline? If this is the product of nearly a decade of on-the-side songwriting, shouldn’t there be more? Shouldn’t it go deeper?
On Former Lives, Gibbard offers up the story songs he is known for, but adds concrete names and characters such as: Duncan, Lily and Lady Adeline, leaving us longing for the nameless figures (who are ironically less vague) in tracks like “Cath” and “Tiny Vessels.”
There is something slightly missing. The melancholy we have come to know and love from Gibbard is lacking its usual sting of sadness. The last time Gibbard wrote an album encompassing the demise of a relationship, we were blessed with 2000’s We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes, a cohesive collection of bitter outpourings including but not limited to: drunken summers, physical tangling, crashed weddings and hopeless scanning of the employment pages.
Even if it doesn’t quite meet my over-the-top expectations, it’s hard to stay disappointed for long with songs that sound so damn pretty. It is undeterminable whether the tracks on Former Lives are autobiographical, or if Gibbard is simply a really good storyteller, but either way, this album is an enjoyable one that should be listened to.