If you were single and bummin’ even slightly when Death Cab for Cutie released Transatlanticism in 2003 (is that the right year? I don’t care), you probably got a bit of a thrill out of hearing Ben Gibbard sullenly sing, “So this is the new year/ And I don’t feel any different.” And if you liked good music at all when Death Cab released Plans in 2006 (and the incomprehensible single “Soul Meets Body” along with it – ugh), you probably went home and gave Transatlanticism another couple of spins.
My friend Zac has opined to me on many an occasion that now that he’s in a happy, long-term, committed relationship, he just has no need to listen to Death Cab for Cutie. I can see his point – I don’t really listen to their good old stuff anymore, despite the fact that I know the music is good. I certainly never consciously reached a decision: “Wow. I’m satisfied enough with my romantic situation that I will no longer listen to Death Cab for Cutie.” It didn’t help that Plans, Death Cab’s major-label debut, was a phoned in affair with one of the worst radio singles ever. I didn’t need Plans to serve the same purpose that Transatlanticism did (and Transatlanticism is one of my all-time lonely-guy albums) so I could look at it for the music without having to ride any emotional ebbs and flows that might come along with it. Good thing, too. Apart from “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” (great song, dumb premise), there’s not much to remember about Plans.
So when I found out that Narrow Stairs was coming from Gibbard and company this year, I really had to wonder if I was going to bother with the thing. I heard that their first single was 8 minutes long and I was actually encouraged by this – Plans was a safe record, way too safe. The fact that Death Cab was leading off with an 8 minute single (their longest song ever for those of you keeping score at home) signaled to me that they may have gotten some of their balls back. Early Death Cab (listen to it) is a quirky affair; Plans was a Coldplay album. Narrow Stairs doesn’t completely undo the adult contemporary feel of Plans but it’s not the tepid listen that Plans was either.
So let’s talk about that 8 minute single, “I Will Possess Your Heart.” I’m gonna go out on a limb and predict that this song, should it become a hit (is it a hit? I don’t listen to the radio), will join R.E.M.’s “The One I Love” (not a love song) and “Losing My Religion” (not about religion) as one of the most misunderstood hits in the history of modern radio. It’s a stalker anthem, building around a menacing bass-line and sung by Gibbard in a cold, detached, “I’ve got something for you in my van, little girl” kind of way. I’m serious, ladies – if a dude calls your local top 40 station and dedicates this song to you, fucking run.
The rest of Narrow Stairs is leaner than “I Will Possess Your Heart,” and reflects the fact that for this album, Death Cab tried to record as much as possible as a live and entire band. It’s a good way to go and the music thrives because of it. I’m not really gonna go into a whole track-by-track thing because it’s a Death Cab album and the songs are all about love and death and empty beds and et cetera. You know, the shit that kid on The OC was all about or whatever.
Narrow Stairs is Death Cab for Cutie realizing that they can be the same band on a big label and it’s an enjoyable listen, which I actually did not expect. I’m not even going to bother with the new Coldplay album but I will arbitrarily declare Narrow Stairs better than it. So there!