Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Death Cab for Cutie: Narrow Stairs Review

Narrow Stairs is Death Cab's second release on a major label. 2005's Plans was a solid album that showed the strength of this atypical rock band. Narrow Stairs, on the other hand, seems to take the band a step backwards.

The album opens with "Bixby Canyon Bridge." This is a choice I'll never understand. I suppose it's just because they had no other place to put it, but I would have just bitten the bullet and opened with the single in this case. "Bixby" is one of the most lifeless tracks on the album, and in my opinion, not a suitable intro. Granted, it picks up and starts to sound more like a rock anthem in the absurdly long bridge section, but even that is pretty simple and not the best showcase of Death Cab's talent.

Next we have the single, "I Will Possess Your Heart." Although it doesn't represent the band's best songwriting, it displays the highest production values on this album. The radio edit is classic Death Cab. The album version was somehow stretched into eight and a half minutes, which is way too long for this structurally simple song, but the length doesn't kill it.

The next two songs, "No Sunlight" and "Cath" are probably the most similar to Death Cab's usual style. They are not among the band's best work, but they are solid in their own right.

That's where it starts to go downhill. The rest of the album feels sloppy and hastily thrown together. The songwriting becomes noticeably less creative, almost immediately. But we can all forgive a few "fillers." The problem is that so many of these songs made it onto the album. I would argue that only about five of the album's eleven songs really belong at all. A few, in fact, show a sharp contrast in style compared to the rest of the album, which makes it feel like they just came out of nowhere. The relatively mellow "Your New Twin Size Bed" is followed by a sudden transition to bright rock in "Long Division" (which, ironically, was probably this album's best candidate for a single. It just doesn't fit!). The closing song, "The Ice is Getting Thinner," is slow and simple, and it also feels like it was forced into place to fit with the rest of the album.

Taking Narrow Stairs as a whole, I don't think it's bad. Some of the songs are solid, and Death Cab for Cutie's overall style smacks generic rock in the face. That said, a lot of this album feels sloppy, and I think that fans will be disappointed when they compare this release to the band's other work, especially Plans.

Caius's Rating: 2.5 stars

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