Oct 12, 2012 Web Exclusive
To those of you waiting in vulturous speculation over what might have been Ben (or, for the sake of Former Lives, Benjamin) Gibbard's post-divorce catharsis record: at ease. Former Lives is, in actuality, something of a scrapbook of the Death Cab for Cutie frontman's songwriting from the last eight years—hence the collection's title looking wistfully over its shoulder. Eagle-eyed listeners may even recognize "Broken Yolk in Western Sky" from Gibbard's 2007 appearance in the Seattle volume of property-demolishing music documentary DVD series Burn to Shine.
Inevitably then, there's no thematic thread that runs through the record, Gibbard drawing on scattered experiences from his recent past. "Something's Rattling (Cowpoke)" is a relocation song laced with doubt, presumably inspired by Gibbard's recent transplantation to Los Angeles (whatever happened to the judgmental snarl of "Why You'd Want To Live Here"?). "It's always summer in the southern state/and it's a comfortable life in a beautiful place," he sighs. Musically, the tinny, Speedy Gonzales fanfare and flamenco pulse here may see a few noses turned up, but for the most part, Former Lives slots neatly into the comfortably strummed pop-rock bracket fans might expect it to.
Two-minute acoustic interlude "Lily" falls like a single raindrop amongst all these brazen pop-rock songs, and finds its counterpart in album closer "I'm Building a Fire," a gentle waltz notable for its uncharacteristic lyrical esotericism—where Gibbard's black and white narrative usually shines, we're treated to an arcane song centered around ideas of transience and the ephemeral, with Gibbard musing: "you already know that the night/is only a temporary absence/of light."
Former Lives, like the records of so many other frontmen-momentarily-gone-solo, is not of grand ambitions or pretence—it's simply a charming patchwork collection of songs from just shy of the last decade that never found a voice amongst the catalogue of Gibbard's other projects. (www.benjamingibbard.net)
Author rating: 7/10
Average reader rating: 6/10