Under Review: Death Cab For Cutie – Narrow Stairs

Death Cab For Cutie really want to be experimental. If it really was the thought and effort that counted, Narrow Stairs would get a perfect score and this review would be over. However, their success, the expectations from their fanbase and their reputation all have held the quartet back. Death Cab want to be experimental, but they can’t. Similarly, I really want to dislike them and their new album, but I can’t. With all of the lyrical and musical whiny melodrama that made Death Cab so popular, there are many things on Narrow Stairs that I can’t help but like. The album starts off with “Bixby Canyon Bridge”, which begins as a spacey, minimalist ballad before heavy fuzz-guitars bang out a riff that makes me think this record is going to be Death Cab‘s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Unfortunately, Ben Gibbard‘s calm and mellow voice gives the music a far different tone than anything Jeff Tweedy‘s tortured howl ever sang. Take, for example, lead single “I Will Possess Your Heart.” After a four-and-a-half minute meandering instrumental introduction (which doesn’t even have the courtesy to repeat “Fujiya, Miyagi” over and over), the longingly morose lyrics kick in. If the lines, “You reject my advances and desperate pleas/I won’t let you let me down so easily” were sung by Tweedy, they would come off as the words of a broken-hearted romantic who just can’t get a date (I mean, this is the man who can get away with “I dreamed about killing you again last night/And it felt alright to me”); but coming from Gibbard, “I Will Possess Your Heart” sounds more like this generation’s “Every Breath You Take”. Not every song is so creepy, though; the mildly-rocking “Cath…” and “Long Division”, as well as the jingle bell-laden “You Can Do Better Than Me” do a fine job of masquerading the stalker sentiments under playful melodies. They might not be able to fully evolve past the emotional-pop style of their previous albums, but Narrow Stairs is an expansion in the right direction for Death Cab. Not that they really need to, given their popularity, but it’s good to see a band stepping outside its comfort zone every once in a while, even if they are baby steps.

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~ by E. on May 11, 2008.

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