Review Summary: The boy bands have won.The Boy Bands Have Won, and All the Copyists and the Tribute Bands and the TV Talent Show Producers Have Won, If We Allow Our Culture to Be Shaped by Mimicry, Whether from Lack of Ideas or From Exaggerated Respect. You Should Never Try to Freeze Culture. What You Can Do Is Recycle That Culture. Take Your Older Brother's Hand-Me-Down Jacket and Re-Style It, Re-Fashion It to the Point Where It Becomes Your Own. But Don't Just Regurgitate Creative History, or Hold Art and Music and Literature as Fixed, Untouchable and Kept Under Glass. The People Who Try to 'Guard' Any Particular Form of Music Are, Like the Copyists and Manufactured Bands, Doing It the Worst Disservice, Because the Only Thing That You Can Do to Music That Will Damage It Is Not Change It, Not Make It Your Own. Because Then It Dies, Then It's Over, Then It's Done, and the Boy Bands Have Won.
In 2003, Death Cab For Cutie released indie-pop masterpiece Transatlanticism, but their frontman scored in both halves of the pitch, his collaboration on Give Up
with electronic artist Dntel (Jimmy Tamborello) also garnering considerable critical acclaim for its dream-like melancholy and soothing beats. Since that point, Gibbard has returned to work with his major project, but while 2005's Plans
and 2008's Narrow Stairs
received reasonable receptions and proved fairly popular, nothing has hit those early-decade heights in their real glory, so it was with a hint of apprehension but nevertheless a great deal of excitement that The Postal Service's sophomore release landed in my mailbox in late 2009.
Lead single 'Fireflies' was an all-around confusing introduction to the pair's new material, but worked out as both a huge radio hit and an enjoyable, if slightly empty reiteration of Give Up
's ideals. It hinted, however, at the issues which plague Ocean Eyes
from top to bottom, the main two of which would seem to have their roots in a lack of care and attention. Gibbard, now engaged to Zooey Deschanel, has let his lyricism slip to the level of puns about the dentist and vacuous metaphors - at one point he even self-references, mentioning Puget Sound as he did on 'This Place Is A Prison' - valuing cute and meaningless imagery over anything harbouring real emotion. Dntel's slip-ups are similar; his beats are again pretty and spacey but so much more simplistic, and their predictability renders Ocean Eyes
a disappointingly uneventful listen; without Gibbard's poignant honesty to save the game, it's even more of a letdown.
Make no mistake about it; 2009's The Postal Service is still at its core the same as that which made Give Up
but just so much more condensed and shallow; there are even good tracks here, Meteor Shower impressingin a short timeframe with its quaint piano and universal, down-trodden atmosphere. The Saltwater Room is arresting as it features the record's only vocals not delivered in Gibbard's definitive everyman tone, a guest spot from Breanne Duren carrying an affecting, infectious chorus. But too frequently it feels as though Tamborello and Gibbard have aimed for the mainstream, leaving behind their artistic integrity and any depth or complexity in the process, dumbing down their aesthetic in an attempt to broaden their audience. The absence of any really intelligent lyricism or unpredictable electronics are this record's defining features, and given that Give Up
's merits lay in the exact opposites of those traits, it's easy to see why Ocean Eyes
falls short of its predecessor by some distance.
One feels that the end product that is Ocean Eyes
was not the intention of either half of The Postal Service when they began work on their debut album; perhaps both have been subjected to a lobotomy in the 6 years between records, or maybe some freak operation merged them into one irritating teenager with absolutely nothing new to say. Whatever the reason for this record's lack of substance, it's a disappointment, because the direction presented at this project's inception was one packed full of intrigue and intelligence. To see it stripped of all artistic merit through a lack of ideas is saddening, and to see it become more popular than the pair's earlier, more original and less contrived work is more so. Ocean Eyes
is undoubtedly a Postal Service record, just a really, really bad one.