Album Review: Benjamin Gibbard – Former Lives

By on Wednesday, 21st November 2012 at 12:00 pm

By this point in his career, Benjamin Gibbard can effectively be called indie-royalty. Having led Death Cab for Cutie out of obscurity on the West Coast of America with a series of fairly alright records, Gibbard really got his break during the hugely acclaimed ‘Transatlanticism’ era. Not only did it see Gibbard and co appear on The OC, but it saw them make a huge step-up in audience. From there, it’s been an enjoyable and successful career in music. Even his side project the Postal Service has seen its Sub-Pop release break the platinum mark. So it’s rather surprising to see him make a solo record.

This then, is the Ben Gibbard side story. The one not reflected in the moods of his other endeavours and one that we’re asked that, even given his recent lack of colour, that ‘Former Lives’ will fill in the gaps with vibrancy and understanding. This promise starts well as the scene is set in a raining west-London as Gibbard, accompanied by himself a capella sings the romanticisms of a lonely evening before the album sets its scene in ‘Dream Song’. Written in third person, you wonder what the point really is, but it’s entertaining enough with the simplistic chords and rhymes as you would expect of a slightly folksier attempt at a solo record. It breaks into ‘Teardrop Windows’, a similar track only instead of being entirely about its writer, becomes an ode to The Smith in Seattle. It makes for another listenable track.

Yet three songs in, you’re already starting to get bored. It’s his own fault as well. In writing this record, Gibbard is hardly departing from his own outfit like Kele did with Bloc Party, he’s not in between acts like Conor Oberst and he’s certainly not branching out like Jack White. In making ‘Former Lives’, Gibbard is simply pointing us in the directions he almost went and didn’t. Whilst ‘Bigger than Love’ has the pulsating drums and guitars of an Arcade Fire hit, the story lacks in your ability to empathise with him. And even the centrepiece of the record, ‘Something’s Rattling’ lacks in anything hugely bold aside from a brief spell of mariachi.

The further into this record you delve, the more of a formality it becomes. ‘Duncan, Where Have You Gone’ has supposedly been a work in progress for a long time; but released today it sounds lost somewhere very close to Blur’s ‘Under the Westway’. (It’s even set in London.) I’d argue that if ‘Hard One to Know’ was placed second in the record, you’d be far more intrigued and who knows? The rest may sound more interesting but again, it’s a mere formality to a man you’d expect far better than a plainly listenable record from. Maybe that’s the problem, we’ll never know.


‘Former Lives’, the debut album from Death Cab for Cutie frontman Benjamin Gibbard, is out now on City Slang. The singer/songwriter will play at London Union Chapel on the 3rd of December.

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2 Responses

2:32 pm
21st November 2012

RT @tgtf: New post: Album Review: Benjamin Gibbard – Former Lives:

[…] I reviewed the new Benjamin Gibbard album (HERE). I wouldn’t say I was upset at the result, more disappointed. Still, every cloud has a […]

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