Review: Benjamin Gibbard – Former Lives
Published on November 12th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Death Cab For Cutie and The Postal Service front man reverts to birth name, embraces sunshine harmonies, releases debut solo album, wins no points for originality but gets a pat on the back for the honesty and lusciousness of his pop songs. Welcome to musical middle age, Benjamin Gibbard.
Opener “Shepherd’s Bush Lullaby” seems to signal a fairly radical shift of emphasis, yer man sweetly singing “In London it’s raining / But I’m not complaining / As I walk in the grey afternoon / And under my umbrella / I sing a capella / This melancholy, whimsical tune” to a striking backdrop of Beach Boys ‘bum bum’ backing vocals, a suitably bereft-sounding ode to a love that lies “an ocean away”. From then on, however, it’s virtually wall-to-wall jangle-pop; and, seeing as he does it well, why not?
Aimee Mann duet “Bigger Than Love” is a charming display of Gibbard’s stargazing lyricism, its chorus of “It’s bigger than love / Brighter than all the stars combined / Dwarfing the sun / Burning within my heart and mind” gloriously topped with a cascading piano, while the Mariachi-ish lilt of “Something’s Rattling (Cowpoke)” reminds of the sadly missed Beulah, particularly their exquisite 2001 album The Coast is Never Clear.
The pedal-steel-assisted “Broken Yolk in Western Sky” betrays a Neil Young influence, Gibbard’s vocal phrasing/cadence on tender closer “I’m Building a Fire” doing likewise with Deserter’s Songs-era Mercury Rev, but it is “Duncan, Where Have You Gone?” that arguably steals the show by sounding something like John Lennon’s “Woman” by way of “God Gave Rock and Roll to You”, with extra added harmonies of course. It’s a heavenly moment on an album of literate, bitter-sweet summer-pop, one which is unlikely to turn your world upside down but may still warm those cockles.
Rocksucker says: Three Quails out of Five!
Former Lives is out now on City Slang. For more information, please visit benjamingibbard.net