In “Former Lives,” the first solo album from Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service frontman Benjamin Gibbard, the singer just goes through the motions, indulging in his weaker instincts.
Nothing announces, “Look, a solo album!” like a singer harmonizing with himself. On the opening track, “Shepherd’s Bush Lullaby,” Gibbard does just that in lazy, a capella verse, going so far as to provide his own backing “bum bum bums.”
The album properly kicks in on “Dream Song,” with the rhythmic strums from Aimee Mann, who is featured on the album. Gibbard sings “The cameras photograph everything,” and you wonder: how much of his public divorce with Zooey Deschanel will be on display here? With lines that mention “the actress,” we might have our answer.
There have been many great albums made that dive into the dissolution of a marriage, but this isn’t one of them. The specifics remain vague and Gibbard is decidedly more content to try on whatever hat he fancies from song to song.
On the duet “Bigger than Love,” Mann gives her best, but Gibbard hasn’t done her any favors lyrically. Crooning “It’s bigger than love / Brighter than all the stars combined,” it seems that Gibbard has run out of meaningful metaphors.
Indeed, there’s little here to love. The mariachi swing of “Something’s Rattling (Cowpoke)” at least offers a break from the familiar. And while “Lady Adelaide” and “Broken Yolk in Western Sky” offer some genuine loveliness in the backstretch, they ultimately do little to improve the album as a whole.
It’s been years since Gibbard has approached anything resembling greatness, arguably since Death Cab’s 2003 release of “Transatlanticism.” Unfortunately, this new album only continues his streak of mediocrity. These “former lives” should’ve remained forgotten, and the songs inspired by them will most likely end up that way.