Death Cab for Cutie

Narrow Stairs (Atlantic)

Phases & Stages

Death Cab for Cutie

Narrow Stairs (Atlantic)

Since 2005 Atlantic debut Plans, Death Cab for Cutie got a shout-out on The OC and was nominated for a Grammy. Yet as Ben Gibbard and crew continue to age out of the demographic so fond of their earnest, guitar-driven love songs and into thirtysomething unease, the foursome isn't quite sure how to peddle its angst alongside fame. Narrow Stairs, the Seattleites' seventh LP, has been called "dark," and Gibbard's character sketches have indeed taken on a world-weary weight, only they're starting to feel like a wet blanket. On "Long Division," he compares a breakup to a math equation. On "Your New Twin Sized Bed," he compares a breakup to ... you get it. The music is equally damp in the pants. Eight-minute-plus single "I Will Possess Your Heart" has a great, propulsive drum/piano build up, but little release. "No Sunlight" is a limp pop toss-off, and the 1960s sunshine beat of "You Can Do Better Than Me" is completely out of sync with its pity-party lyrics. On 2001's buoyant The Photo Album, Gibbard observed, "Now we all know the words were true in the sappiest songs," and he's become a writer of sappy songs. Opener "Bixby Canyon Bridge" is the most promising lyricwise, Gibbard lamenting he's "no closer to any kind of truth" after driving to Big Sur in search of Jack Kerouac. Perhaps if there were more self-exploration and less chemical dependency on the old standby, heartbreak, Narrow Stairs wouldn't sound, to paraphrase the band, like settling.

**

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