Review Summary: Too much Gibbard
Ben Gibbard, how are you not sick of yourself? Solo effort Former Lives
apparently spans eight years of material, but it's all so similar it could have just as well been written in a weekend.
Gibbard seems to think of himself as a sort of narrator, but I much prefer when he talks about himself. Too many songs here are about nameless "he's" or "she's" drifting lonely through city streets, or couples who feel empty and distant. This is all well and fine, but Gibbard's lyrics are so bland each song is rendered indistinct. Most songs have something to do with someone feeling "empty" during the "night", thinking about how life has been "passing them by". I'm sure some people will love this, but it's nothing more than fluff to me - and not the good kind you can make sandwiches with.
"Dream Song" has an amateur vocal melody and mundane lyrics about some guy who can't sleep because he's thinking about a girl and his life passing him by - it also falls victim to the Gibbard beat. Too many of the tracks on Former Lives
adhere to the same country-tinged drum and bass rhythm, much like the one used on "Little Bribes" from the Open Door EP
and "Codes and Keys" from Codes and Keys
. This beat just screams "Ben Gibbard", and I can only assume Chris Walla is the reason this Gibbard beat rarely appeared on any true Death Cab releases.
"Teardrop Windows" similarly uses the Gibbard beat, and consequently sounds just like "Dream Song". It's about some dude whose heart has "too many vacancies" and is "feeling sOoOoOo empty" (the OoOoOoO sound is another Gibbardism abundant throughout the album). Some will probably like "Bigger than Love", as it has that winning "epic indie ballad" structure, but the Gibbardisms are still too rampant, with more lyrics about small towns and loneliness.
"Lily" has more lyrics about light and darkness, and will definitely make the fangirls swoon. "Something's Rattling" is an outlier, peppered with Spanish-sounding horn flourishes, and lyrics about "trying not to be found", rather than some failed relationship - but the music is as light and fluffy as the rest of the songs on here - though the horns do make it zestier.
I like Gibbard's self-depreciating, loner type songs more than his hopeless-romantic ones - songs like "Bixby Canyon Bridge" and "Different Names for the Same Thing". Unfortunately, Former Lives
doesn't contain anything of the sort. The few songs that aren't obviously about relationships or "lovers" are still overly light and, dare I say, disposable.
"Duncan, Where Have you Gone?" could have been a nice little one-minute song, but I guess Gibbard felt he had to add an awkward bridge/pre-chorus and a beatles-esque "solo" so he could stretch it out to four minutes. The bridge is a typical Gibbardism - an abrupt, awkward shift to a minor chord.
"Oh, Woe" is about Gibbard's woe. "A Hard One to Know" is kind of cool - it is so unabashedly poppy that it's kind of fun. It reminds me of puppy love at some kodak-moment summer camp - but, there is an unfortunate synth solo somewhere in there that would have been better left un-recorded. I'm going to give Gibbard the benefit of the doubt and assume he just forgot to remove it.
"Lady Adelaide" sounds
nice, but its lyrics are more of the same - narration of some wandering damsel, unsure of what to do with her life: "Now she's a bird with a broken wing," "She is a bed that has been unmade." Come on man... He's no Peter Gabriel, let's just leave it at that.
"Broken Yolk in Western Sky" has a neat title, but it's predictably bland, and "I'm Building a Fire" is that generic lo-fi, simple closing track - Just Ben and his guitar! After Gibbard rhymes Night with Light, among other things, the album comes to an end.
is Ben Gibbard on autopilot - it is such a Ben Gibbard album that it doesn't even deserve its own title. It should just be called "The Ben Gibbard Solo Album", or, "Ben Gibbard: You Know the Drill." Either way, Ben Gibbard is so spot-on consistent in being Average, that I can't give this album lower than a 2.5. It's not offensively bad or anything, it's just ridiculously bland. If you love the song "Little Bribes" from the Open Door EP
then you'll love this album. Otherwise, you'll forget about it as soon as it's over.