Death Cab for Cutie reminds me of Eurythmics.
Back when I was a pre-teen, I followed Eurythmics closely, buying just about every album the duo made. But as the years passed, I realized I didn’t love any one of those albums in particular. Eurythmics produced some great music on the whole, but a lot of its individual songs were filler.
Death Cab for Cutie, similarly, strikes me as a band with a great overall sound. But listen too closely, and you have to get through some dead weight.
Let me disclaim that I have listened only to the last three albums — Plans, Transatlanticism and The Photo Album, plus The Postal Service’s Give Up. For a band with seven albums to its name, that is admittedly not enough ground to cover.
But of the three Death Cab for Cutie albums I do own, Transatlanticism is the only one I find consistently excellent. The way the songs segue into one another shows a lot of thought went into the entire composition of the album. It’s more than just a collection of songs.
With Plans, those same segues try to force a larger structure upon a set of songs not suited for it. After some adjustment, the segues work better, but they don’t work as seamlessly as on Transatlanticism.
The transition between “Marching Bands of Manhattan” and “Soul Meets Body” doesn’t feel right on the first few listens. “Summer Skin” going into “Different Names” pretty much kills any momentum the album had before it could ever develop.
The second half of Plans does away with the transitions and bumps tracks together, one after the other. While the more extroverted songs beginning with “Your Heart Is an Empty Room” work better with each other, they still don’t fit comfortably.
Two-second gaps would have made the album feel more coherent.
Individually, the songs themselves are quite good. “I Will Follow You” has some chilling lines about fear and love. The redundancy in the chorus of “Crooked Teeth” feels both awkward and catchy. (“You can’t find nothing at all/If there was nothing there all along” — “nothing”, “there”, “all”)
Put some stuttering beats behind “Brothers on a Hotel Bed”, and it’s pretty much a Postal Service song.
That’s not to say there are some duds. The meandering conclusion of “Different Names” is pointless, while the 6-minute “What Sarah Said” is just unremarkable.
Plans illicited the same reaction I had to The Photo Album — nice songwriting, good performances. But if it could be better, then it would be great.
The album makes for a nice listen, but it’s not the moving experience Transatlanticism was, and Plans isn’t distinctive enough to avoid the comparrison.