The announcement of Ben Gibbard’s debut solo album caused some to speculate that the Death Cab for Cutie frontman would use his lyrics as a therapy session to spill the details of what went wrong during his short-lived marriage to Zooey Deschanel. But in actual fact, the album is far less dramatic than previously anticipated.
The 12 tracks that comprise Former Lives aren’t a sudden flood of depressive inspiration—written over the course of the singer-songwriter’s career, they feel more like a diverse collection of favourites that didn’t fit on Death Cab albums than an airing of dirty laundry.
Gibbard’s melodic trademarks are very much intact, but it’s intriguing to hear him trying out a range of styles, from the big, chiming rocker “Bigger Than Love” to the near–yacht rock of “Duncan, Where Have You Gone?,” all the way to the mariachi-inflected “Something’s Rattling (Cowpoke).” This makes Former Lives a bit of an inconsistent listen, but it’s nevertheless a valuable opportunity to get a clearer sense of the trial-and-error process employed by one of the most consistently great songwriters of our time.
Playlist picks: “Teardrop Windows,” “Bigger Than Love,” “A Hard One to Know”
Ben Gibbard plays Danforth Music Hall (147 Danforth Ave.) on Oct. 14.