Top positive review
18 people found this helpful
Give it a Try
on October 17, 2012
I came into Ben Gibbard's first solo album as a casual fan -- I mostly enjoyed his Postal Service project, and there are moments when Death Cab for Cutie can hit dazzling heights with their music. However, I've never really been captivated by his voice or lyrics. I went into FORMER LIVES with no real expectations -- I just had no idea what to expect: would it be electronic pop? Bare-bones singer-songwriter fare? Death-Cab-Style Power-pop? It turns out that the Death Cab for Cutie front-man's first solo album is a good effort, but it's missing the spark that his projects carry.
FORMER LIVES starts with the enigmatic "Shepherd's Bush Lullaby," a track just shy of a minute long that mostly consists of a capella performance. The next track though is a bit more representative of the album's sound: "Dream Song" is a mostly uptempo ballad that's interrupted with some dreamy textures periodically. Most of the songs on the album follow this sound: generally uptempo middle-of-the-road rock-n-roll that have occasional flashes of texturing or experimentation. The tunes here are very melodic, and it really feels like Gibbard spent a lot of time trying to craft these songs -- these songs' meat-and-potatoes approaches work well, but they might leave fans of Death Cab for Cutie's experimental side wanting. The lyrics here range from the good to the great -- Gibbard, going through a high-profile separation from a certain famous actress, seems to have plenty of things to say here (CODES AND KEYS seemed to lack any real emotional focal point that other albums carried). "Something's Rattling (Cowpoke)" stands out like a sore-thumb with its mariachi horns -- the sound really doesn't work for the singer-songwriter no matter how subtle he tries to be with it. The album ends with "I'm Building a Fire," a bare acoustic track that provides an intimate feel. It concludes FORMER LIVES with the sensation that Gibbard is singing just in the next room, so in a way, it stops just as it starts, with Gibbard's vocals bearing the weight of the songs.
Ben Gibbard's FORMER LIVES is good, but it's not great. If anything, this record is an interesting example of Gibbard on his own, removed from the band that brought him fame. I would recommend it to fans of Death Cab for Cutie that can't wait for the band's next release. Listeners that are new to Gibbard would probably do well to start with an earlier Death Cab record (like TRANSATLANTICISM or PLANS) before jumping into this one. Give it a shot -- it's not a blind purchase, so I would recommend sampling a few songs first before making a decision. Essential tracks to sample or download: "Dream Song," "Lady Adelaide," and "Bigger than Love."