Opinion: Whatever happened to Death Cab For Cutie?
Published February 19, 2013 by Jeff Becker
Where did it all go wrong?
They’ve gone from being the former darlings of indie pop, to the proverbial eye roll they are right now. From the top 20 best-of list back then, to the 15th worst now in the LA Weekly. From the bottom of our hearts in 2003 to the shrug of our shoulders today. From the charming beauty of Zooey to being gone abruptly. Mom, please, whatever happened to Death Cab For Cutie?
As great, humble, delicate and charming the first three Death Cab For Cutie albums were, the Bellingham, Washington-based band found lightning in a bottle with their own magnum opus in 2003. Transatlanticism was an album that reached so far beyond their previous work that it appeared almost an aberration. It was the immaculate conception of albums instead of a logical leap forward. Transatlanticism, from front to back comes off like Death Cab’s own Dark Side of the Moon. It’s the immaculate, perfect, studio masterpiece following the slow, steady walk to the up the indie mountain they scaled with tiny steps until then. Transatlanticism was the rocket ship. Upon reaching the mountain top, Death Cab found only one direction to go – and they’ve done so, excruciatingly.
The honeymoon of Transatlanticism gave us the followup, Plans, and perhaps the most popular, endearing and overplayed Cutie track of all, “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”. It’s become the staple at every Death Cab show since 2005 and the centerpiece for every wannabe quasi-hipster among the post-2003 Death Cab fans. No subsequent Death Cab album since 2005 has been great. Plans floated beautifully on the ocean waves of its predecessor. Narrow Stairs and Codes and Keys have drowned like a thud. Ben Gibbard’s solo debut (which is actually very good) and a reissue of the criminally over-rated Postal Service does nothing but make us curious to the big question: How did this all go wrong?
Thus, in heartbreaking fashion, the times have turned dire since the final chords of Plans. Ben has lost weight and runs marathons. He’s divorced now. He sings a lot about home, fires and strange things like St. Paul’s Cathedral. Eh? Each new album has about three wonderful songs and nine that wouldn’t have qualified for the wonderful Forbidden Love EP from 2000. The Cuties started to think too much about being different instead of better. Chris Walla’s studio gizmos were a fine strategical move (the new stuff never needs to sound like the old stuff, I know that) but the charm was gone. Instead of love songs like ‘405’ or singing about heartfelt, exuberant times with friends and loves in ‘Photobooth’, we now hear about forest fires, tourists and strange, dark things like whatever the terrible ‘I Will Possess Your Heart’ is about from Narrow Stairs. We don’t want Death Cab to possess our heart and tell us about fires. Charm us and sing to us. Quit trying so hard.