Benjamin Gibbard – Former Lives (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
BENJAMIN Gibbard’s sophomore solo album has been a long time in coming but it’s a beauty now that it’s arrived.
The Death Cab For Cutie supremo candidly admits that the songs contained within Former Lives “span eight years, three relationships, living in two different places, drinking then not drinking” and so on.
As such, it’s a personal record informed as much by triumph as it is, at times, sorrow. It recalls time spent in other cities, following other plans, meeting different friends, pursuing different dreams and recounting former loves and lives.
Throughout, Gibbard’s inimitable vocals provide a deeply satisfying accompaniment, recalling both the welcome familiarity of his Death Cab For Cutie work as well as a few nice surprises that stray far away from that sound and into areas as wide-ranging as a capella, mariachi and Lennon and McCartney.
Album opener Shepherd’s Bush Lullaby hints at a life spent in London. It’s delivered a capella and displays a nice sense of humour, declaring “in London it’s raining, but I’m not complaining” over the top of a ‘bum bum bunm’ vocal harmony. It was recorded on Gibbard’s iPhone and is an enchanting way to get things started.
Dream Song then ushers in a more Death Cab-meets Shins style of sound, complete with breezy acoustic guitar licks. It’s the first real highlight of many (although there isn’t a bad track here).
Teardrop Windows has a really pleasing vibe to it, complete with some Jeff Lynne-style production values, while Bigger Than Love (another favourite) finds Gibbard dueting to satisfying effect with Aimee Mann and again recalling the classic style of Lynne and even McCartney. It’s just an effortless crowd-pleaser of a record, high on melody and toe-tapping qualities.
Lily is another charmer, an aching tale of love that is full of heart-warming sentiment (“Lily is a big brass band who fills the air with song, Lily is a destination and she’s where my arms belong”), that’s delivered without overly sentimentalising things.
And Something’s Rattling (Cowpoke) drops in a smile-inducing Mariachi band that showcases Gibbard’s ability to mix up his sound and toy with expectation. It works really well.
Duncan, Where Have You Gone? unfolds amid the type of piano that Imagine-era Lennon would be proud of as well as a harmony and melody that recalls the classics (albeit with a melancholy undertow), Oh, Woe has a brisk rock vibe attached (akin to Fountains of Wayne) and A Hard One To Know is a breezy lament about a failed relationship that is rife with striking imagery (“you give your love out like an auctioneer, your moods are jumpy and your words unclear… first you smother, then you disengage”).
And still the good songs roll in… Lady Adelaide is a quiet charmer, Broken Yolk in Western Sky dabbles in country-rock and I’m Building A Fire rounds things off with a dusky camp-fire strummer of a track that disarms by virtue of its gentle simplicity.
It’s just a really, really great listen.
Download picks: Dream Song, Bigger Than Love, Lily, Something’s Rattling (Cowpoke), Duncan, Where Have You Gone?, A Hard One To Know