Death Cab For Cutie - Plans
Mike Mantin 29/08/2005
Death Cab For Cutie spent years of being emo-pop also-rans who rattled out great albums to much acclaim from critics and hipsters but little commercial success, especially not here in the UK. That's all changed now thanks to a (thankfully cancelled) support slot with- gulp- Blink-182, singer Ben Gibbard's popular electronic side-project The Postal Service and, most significantly, constant big-ups from Seth Cohen. Before they knew it, Death Cab had a major label deal thrust at them and were being listened to by more than just a few trendies and a fictional character.
It's a shame that, from now on, Death Cab have become synonymous with The Trashy American Teen Drama That Shall Not Be Named because, underneath the glossy new production, there is sizeable proof on the first half of 'Plans' that Ben Gibbard's ability to write great songs remains intact. The opening 'Marching Bands Of Manhattan', while containing some of Gibbard's famously bad attempts at clever lyrics (“Sorrow drips into your heart through a pinhole/Just like a faucet that leaks and there is comfort in the sound”), is still sweet, gentle and likeable: a quintessential Death Cab track.
First single 'Soul Meets Body' is a grower, with the production and more stupid lyrics (“A melody softly soaring through my atmosphere”) attempting to ruin a good tune. After 'Summer Skin', with its driving bassline, we treated to two songs of Gibbard in his element: writing simple, thoughtful ballads. 'Different Names For The Same Thing' is half delicate piano ballad, then after two minutes it turns into half mild, xylophone-assisted, Postal Service-style electronica. It's what you wish the whole of 'Plans' would sound like. Even better (and more lo-fi) is 'I Will Follow You Into The Dark', which finds Gibbard alone with an acoustic guitar. It's a simple but effective tune and his imagery finally works, with pretentiousness put aside in favour of a simpler and more affecting style.
After this strong 5-track opening, however, things start to edge closer to the middle of the road. 'Someday You Will Be Loved' is especially dismal, possessing a melodramatic melody more at home on a Disney soundtrack than an indie-rock album. It's a truly appalling stab at universal appeal. The closing 'Stable Song' attempts to gently close the album in the way 'Transatlanticism''s tear-jerking closer 'A Lack Of Colour' did, but does little to grab the listener's attention. Only the beautiful, stripped down, mournful piano number 'Brothers On A Hotel Bed' offering real relief from the boredom. It's got the same urgent but chilled mood as that album's other highlight, 'Passenger Seat'.
Half Death Cab doing what they do best, half Death Cab on autopilot with added overproduction, 'Plans' is a disappointingly patchy affair. There are, of course, highlights but, perhaps because of The Man, Seth and an army of teenage girls pushing for something as listenable as possible, the coherence, passion and experimentalism of their previous output has slightly faded.