Death Cab for Cutie's new album Plans is a little blah when compared to their previous albums. I think there's a lot of great songwriting on display, and Ben Gibbard doesn't disappoint with his lyrics or his vocals, but Chris Walla's guitars don't seem to have made the trip from Barsuk to Atlantic. It's disappointing that the irrepressible, declarative guitar riffs have been traded in for an inoffensive mixture of smooth bass lines, drum-machiney beats, and atmospheric electronics, an apparent missive towards the Garden State OST audience. Interesting that the producer of the album would engage in such altruism by muting himself, especially when what's missing from the resulting sound, in my expert opinion, is his guitar. Only "Crooked Teeth" has a riff that's even noticeable, never mind memorable (see "The New Year," "Why You'd Want To Live Here"). That doesn't mean torrents of blazing guitars or anything, but past albums have demonstrated that Walla can be both skillful and complementary without being invisible ("Title and Registration," "Blacking Out The Friction," "405").
Anyway, it's still too early to dismiss Plans as an inferior record, or a misguided departure, or an unbridled attempt to poach the mainstream Coldplay audience. It has plenty going for it, specifically the songwriting (except on the damnable single "Soul Meets Body"). The highlights are probably the lead track, "Marching Bands of Manhattan," and the heartbreaking "I Will Follow You Into The Dark," which is as stunningly gutwrenching as a song can be without being depressing, and which will ultimately be one of the songs Gibbard is best remembered for. (Atlantic would be wise to place that song on a WB soap opera as soon as possible, because teenage girls will sob their eyes out when they hear it.) But despite some of its achievements, Plans is a maturation away from something that I enjoyed, and still enjoy, a lot more.
I never thought I'd write this, but I'm a little curious as to what Pitchfork will say about it. I smell a big-time (and undeserved) ass-kicking. I set the over-under at 4.2.
Speaking of Pitchfork, read this. Very interesting.