By Nate Buchik
Arizona Daily Wildcat
August 25, 2005
Thanks to "The O.C." culture and the Postal Service, Death Cab For Cutie signed to major label Atlantic Records before recording their fifth full-length album, Plans.
When a band signs to a major label, the band usually assures its fan base that nothing will change, except more money will be spent on marketing. That's hardly ever the case, of course. Undoubtedly, a band will change its sound, be encouraged to write a "hit" and find a new fan base full of MTV-adoring teens.
Death Cab For Cutie said it wouldn't change.
3 out of 10
You have to wonder if they lied, or - like George W. with the WMDs in Iraq - were just mistaken.
While Plans is not completely devoid of decent music, it's a big step backward for Death Cab. Their last album, Transatlanticism, showed songwriter Ben Gibbard in top form, and electronic side project the Postal Service's debut LP was equally impressive.
Plans sees the boys using less guitar and more keyboards, perhaps trying to emulate what helped the Postal Service sell more than any Death Cab record ever has. But for Death Cab, less guitar means too many ballads and a sound that always seems too restrained.
While Death Cab certainly doesn't rock that "hard," the best moments they have are when Gibbard and his mates play with a little ferocity (see the buildups in "Styrofoam Plates," "We Looked Like Giants" and "Transatlanticism"). There's not a point on this record where you hear Gibbard shouting into his microphone or drummer Jason McGerr more than tapping his kit.
Guitarist Chris Walla once again controls the boards and has proven himself adept at making Death Cab albums more layered with each subsequent disc. This time he has also penned a song, "Brothers In a Hotel Bed," which - with its long, slow piano intro - turns out to be one of the better songs on the record.
Other highlights include the first single, "Soul Meets Body," which has three different catchy melodies working for it, and the folksy acoustic number, "I Will Follow You Into The Dark."
Lyrically, the song comes incredibly close to being too precious, as Gibbard's songs often do. While the song is certainly romantic, it's tough to get any more serious than lines like, "Love of mine/Someday you will die/But I'll be close behind." While it's heavy on the cheese, the sparse arrangement helps the song work, and I'm sure it will be a constant presence on couples' mix CDs for years to come.
Other than that, this is the first Death Cab record where most of the songs are utterly forgettable. Maybe it's not directly because they're now on a major label, but Ben Gibbard's songwriting here is so safe, it's boring.
Let's hope he's just saving the good melodies for the next Postal Service record.