Ben Gibbard is one of the few musicians who gained more fame and notoriety for his side project than regular gig. His wildly successful Postal Service debut, Give Up, swept the airwaves thanks to the blockbuster smash “Garden State.” The collaboration between Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello of the indie glitch-pop powerhouse Dntel, was praised for its airy, electronic atmospheres but lambasted for its tepid lyrics. It’s these vocal shortcomings that have plagued the catalog of Gibbard’s Death Cab For Cutie.
Gibbard has never concealed his lyrical topics: girls, heartbreak, depression and solitude. In essence, Death Cab is the quintessential emo group — a label that has been exponentially losing respect in the music world. As emo clumsily forces it’s way into the mainstream (My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy) it becomes more of a liability to be branded as such. Although Death Cab finally made its way to a major label with Plans, Gibbard runs the risk of losing his diehard fan base.
What sets Death Cab apart from other cookie-cutter pop-punk groups is the use of imagery. Gibbard’s lyrics are occasionally outlandish, but always visual. His style incorporates less rhyming couplets and witty lines in exchange for bold, vivid (yet sometimes cliché) metaphors.
Plans is filled with piano ridden ballads and Gibbard’s effeminate yet affectionate melodies. “Your Heart Is an Empty Room” is the same song Death Cab has been releasing their entire career. But it still works. The obvious emo theme is strewn throughout the track: “And all you see / Is where else you could be / When you’re at home,” as the overly sentimental line flows through the acoustic guitar lines and cymbal flares.
“Different Names for the Same Thing” trudges through an extended piano-meets-reverberating-vocals intro before an electronic beat drops and truly starts the track. The ensuing three-minute crescendo of staccato keyboard blips and compiling, powerful drums is Gibbard’s attempt to recapture the Postal Service vibes. The other excursion is the folkier, Bright Eyes-esque “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.” While occasionally the track sounds a bit forced, it is genuinely sincere and a necessary shift away from the pop-infused tracks.
It’s when Gibbard starts employing his lyrical abilities that the album either falls short or soars to new heights. In “Marching Bands of Manhattan” he sings “If I could open my mouth / Wide enough for a marching band to march out.” The asinine lyric sounds ludicrous coming from any legitimate musician. Combined with the Five For Fighting vocal inflections, the track blends into the mediocrity of the emo stereotype. On the contrary, “Brothers On a Hotel Bed” uses some of the most heartfelt imagery on the album: “Because now we say goodnight from our own separate sides / Like brothers on a hotel bed.”
Plans is not the album that’s going to make Gibbard a star. With a new Postal Service album on the horizon, his most legitimate chance for fame is coming soon. Although Death Cab signed to a major label, they haven’t changed enough to lose their fan base. In fact, they’ve gotten better. If Gibbard continues to write sentimental, vibrant lyrics without going over the top, he just may gain the respect he’s been trying to hard to obtain.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars