Release Date: May 13, 2008
Record label: Atlantic
Genre(s): Indie, Rock, Pop
After spending the better part of a decade in the musical minor leagues, Death Cab for Cutie went pro with 2005's Plans, a record whose optimism and bright, Technicolor sound gave the band enough leverage to enter the mainstream. "Soul Meets Body" became their biggest rock single to date, but it was Ben Gibbard's delicate love song, "I Will Follow You Into the Dark," that earned the quartet a Grammy nomination and legions of new fans. Some bands might have taken a cue from that success and resigned themselves to a career of acoustic ballads, not unlike the Goo Goo Dolls' transformation in the mid-'90s.
Pity Death Cab for Cutie singer-songwriter Ben Gibbard. If his band’s seventh CD is any indication, meaningful female companionship still eludes him (perhaps alarming news to his girlfriend!). But even if he can’t shake lovesickness on Narrow Stairs, the band gives him no quarter with a full-bodied attack. Moving on from the expansive production of their breakout album, 2003’s Transatlanticism, and their 2005 major-label debut, Plans, Death Cab continue their quest to give tenderhearted laments arena-rock punch.
Hearing Ben Gibbard describe the new Death Cab in interviews as more abrasive, I had to chuckle picturing the sensitive poster boy fogging up his Buddy Holly glasses, throwing his sweater vest to the ground. Is it time for Death Cab to piss off some parents? Not quite. But Narrow Stairs certainly doesn’t drip the same cutesy sap we’re accustomed to from these Seattleites.
Like his hero Jack Kerouac, Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard has but one moment of unbridled self-reflection that cuts all of the superfluous character sketches, the self-indulged self-loathing, and idealizing of people he wishes he could be. In Kerouac’s case, it was one of his final novels, Big Sur, in which he described life as an alcoholic, post-On the Road. In Gibbard’s case, it’s the first track on his band’s tepid sixth album, Narrow Stairs.
Review Summary: Narrow Stairs is an ambitious journey that falls short in the end.Optimistic. It was the first word that came to mind the first time hearing the new Death Cab For Cutie album. Why not? After all, the first song was everything and more that I thought Death Cab For Cutie had the potential for. Their last two releases, Transatlanticism and Plans left an unimpressionable taste that barely had me clawing back to listen for more.
Since 2005 Atlantic debut Plans, Death Cab for Cutie got a shout-out on The OC and was nominated for a Grammy. Yet as Ben Gibbard and crew continue to age out of the demographic so fond of their earnest, guitar-driven love songs and into thirtysomething unease, the foursome isn't quite sure how to peddle its angst alongside fame. Narrow Stairs, the Seattleites' seventh LP, has been called "dark," and Gibbard's character sketches have indeed taken on a world-weary weight, only they're starting to feel like a wet blanket.