Sometimes, even when you don’t like a successful band, it’s easy to see why everyone else does. For instance, I find Radiohead kind of boring and a little bit pretentious, while most people fall all over themselves, screaming, “they’re just so innovative!” I still don’t buy it, but at least I understand the appeal.
Other times, a band’s success is baffling. Not only have I never been particularly crazy about Death Cab for Cutie, I have absolutely no idea what everyone else sees in them.
Frontman Ben Gibbard does have a sweet, soothing voice and he’s capable of churning out distinctly memorable melodies. There’s also something pleasant and naturally ambient about the tone of each instrument — all of this I understand. But too often, these elements combine to create a mish-mosh of nondescript pleasantries, ultimately making for a sound suited for little more than background music. At no point in their career has this unfortunate phenomenon occurred with more frequency than on Plans, their sixth long-player and first since being catapulted to major-label land, thanks in no small part to being name-checked by a particular character on a popular teen drama.
With only two notable exceptions, the songs on Plans are lackluster experiments in understatement. Postal Service-esque beats and well-executed “ba-da-ba’s” make ‘Soul Meets Body’ the closest Death Cab comes to real success as a band. The other standout track is ‘I Will Follow You into the Dark’, which has already been widely praised as a song-of-the-year candidate. It features only the acoustic guitar and Gibbard’s vocals at their absolute best, as he convincingly pleads with a loved one not to be fearful of death. It’s the only time on Plans when their far-reaching success makes even a little bit of sense, and it makes you think: If the rest of the band could figure out how to complement Gibbard’s songs rather than muddying them up and making them indistinguishable from one another, they might actually become one of the best bands in the country. Until then, they’ll have to settle for being one of the most popular.