Benjamin Gibbard - Former Lives
To anyone of The OC generation: you won't need me to tell you about the new Benjamin Gibbard album - it's probably already on heavy rotation on your iPod, or at the very least you've sampled a few tracks after that blog your friend writes told you to. However, if you don't know what a Death Cab for Cutie is and weren't spending your weekends in 2004 scuffing your Converse and painstakingly soundtracking the latest heartbreak, then let me tell you Former Lives is a satisfying solo effort from a songwriter who up to this point has never really done a Ben Folds and branched out beyond the band. Sure, there was swoony electro side-project The Postal Service but this is the first album to bear the sole name of Benjamin Gibbard. Does he carry it off?
Pretty much, yeah. Former Lives is too slight an album to get overly excited about, but quantity/quality yada yada - although its twelve tracks barely take the listener past the 30 minute mark, the songs are solid and showcase Gibbard's already proven songwriting nous but with less navel gazing than his dayjob band. A brisk a capella intro leads us into 'Dream Song', a brisk and pleasant guitar-led listen coloured by Gibbard's plaintive vocal, direct storytelling style, catchy singalong melody and, heck, even a bit of honky tonk piano.
Proceeded by 'Teardrop Windows' and highlight 'Bigger Than Love', Gibbard sets the tone for an album that, although short, is wall-to-wall with the type of amiable, radio-friendly demi-anthems typical of American singer/songwriters but so often lacking in spark; crucially, Gibbard is aided by production that throws up a surprise or two (e.g. mariachi horns on 'Something's Rattling', a frickin' Aimee Mann guest spot) and confidence in his own musical approach. He doesn't slack off but he doesn't over-reach, which is why the underplayed likes of 'Lily' and 'Lady Adelaide' (yup, lady heartbreak is a recurring theme) land most effectively. Akin to former duet partner Jenny Lewis's solo records, this is cleverly-crafted guitar pop with an emotional core that never over-eggs its inherent smarts. In short, a Death Cab ride that definitely ain't no wreck.