Dissecting Death Cab for Cutie's "Plans"
The other day, I posted a song from the new Death Cab for Cutie album, along with a few thoughts about the album. Turns out, some other people have opinions about Plans too. Who woulda thunk it? "Someday You Will Be Loved" is apparently controversial, largely for the very reasons I appreciate it.
I've spent some quality time with the album, and some thoughts about the tracks follow. My perspective/bias is that of a Death Cab fan, but not a blindly loyal one.
1. Marching Bands of Manhattan - Excellent. I love the singsong, teasing rhythm toward the beginning.
2. Soul Meets Body - The music sounds like New Order to me. The lyric "if the darkness takes you, I hope it takes me too" reminds me of The Smiths' "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" ("To die by your side/Well, the pleasure - the privilege is mine"). I like this song a lot (then again, I like New Order and The Smiths too).
3. Summer Skin - The drumming bothers me. Fine, an overenthusiastic marching band drummer escaped from a parade; these things happen. Why was (s)he allowed to join Death Cab in the studio for the recording of this song? It's a distraction in an otherwise pretty good song.
4. Different Names for the Same Thing - "self-indulgent, excessive, extreme, extravagent." I wrote that after two listens; it just seemed like an exercise in, well, self-indulgence. I've listened to it several times now, and I'm starting to dig it. I didn't like "Smells Like Teen Spirit" the first time I heard it either. I believe I asked my then-boyfriend to... sigh "turn it down a bit." It took about three or four listens until it clicked with me. I think sometimes our ears, or brain, want to reject a song if it doesn't immediately grab us, or is too different/challenging. Not saying "Different Names" is a classic. But it is another song I would have said I disliked after one listen, and has grown on me.
5. I Will Follow You Into the Dark - Love and death, yep... quite obviously the theme of the album. Lovely, quiet little song about love and death. Quite a nice song, but this probably isn't one I'm going to want to listen to a lot.
6. Your Heart Is An Empty Room - Pretty. I was thinking it's almost a more mature version of "Someday You Will Be Loved" but the lyric "there on the street, so many possibilities to not be alone" is about as unromantic as the lyrics of "Someday". Merely not being alone is a lousy goal... and yet the music almost shimmers toward the end. The music, at least feels more hopeful than the track that follows it. Antiromantic lyrics sung in a nice voice to pretty music... it doesn't have a good life lesson, but it's a good song. Back to the Smiths -- I wouldn't encourage people to live their life according to their songs either, but many of them are fine songs nonetheless.
7. Someday You Will Be Loved - I liked this a lot at first listen and still do. This may sound weird, but I like it not only because I like its sound, but because it's so damn cold. The chill is established right from the beginning, with Ben doing his best Stephin Merritt impression as he sings, "I cannot pretend that I felt any regret" about leaving a girl with only a note. This chilly tone, sustained throughout the track, intrigues me. He isn't interested in his ex finding happiness and loving someone. He's interested in her finding a new and better him who will love her. He sees her as an object to be loved, not someone who should also love. Whether or not she has any feelings for the guy is irrelevant. He figures she'll forget him, her old lover, but will she truly love the new one? As long as the new guy loves her, that should apparently be enough. I like that beneath the surface of this supposedly reassuring song sung by such a sweet voice lies a fairly disturbing selfishness. That's an awesome contrast. This girl is better off whether or not she finds someone else. There's a different sort of reassurance to be found in that. And call me twisted, but I can sometimes enjoy a song with a nasty narrator. Within reason. And hey, at least Ben isn't trapped in her closet.
8. Crooked Teeth - Fun, jangly pop. "Woohoo, woohoo." I'm ignoring the lyrics. "Woohoo, woohoo." Maybe Ben should write a song about reading or cars or something.
9. What Sarah Said - I know it's supposed to be very emotional and powerful but somehow it doesn't work for me. There's too much narration leading up to the "Sarah said" part. I would have preferred "show, don't tell" storytelling here. Also, Ben's tone seems off... I guess he's angry, which could be appropriate, but it still seemed abrasive. The anger and excessive narration seem like manipulations just to draw attention to the line "love is watching someone die." There's more of a spotlight on it because it gets so quiet when Ben finally shuts up before that part and mentions Sarah saying that. Why not trust a line like that to be dramatic enough to get our attention on its own? The "hey, I'm singing from a distance" acoustic trick that followed soon afterward bothered me a bit too. I prefer the love and death track "I Will Follow You Into the Dark" to this love and death track. I get it. Love is watching someone die, and then you want to die too, because you love them and you want to be with them forever and so you turn all Johnny Deathwish about it. That's sweet... C'mon, one song about how you can't drive 55.
10. Brothers On a Hotel Bed - Piano line is so boring, and goes on for too long at the start, and then repeats endlessly. I like the rest of the song, but the piano is way too repetitive for over three minutes of a song that's only four and half minutes long. It ruins it for me.
11. Stable Song - After a second listen, I wrote "good background noise song... nice, but not spectacular." After another couple listens, I found it more appealing and sort of sultry.
At this point I basically like 8 of the 11 songs, to varying degrees. I feel mixed on "Summer Skin" and just don't like "What Sarah Said" and have to put "Brothers On a Hotel Bed" in that "dislike" category too. I liked everything except the piano, but I don't feel like listening to it again and that piano part is the only thing sticking in my mind from it, which is a good sign I dislike it. Even though I like the vast majority of the songs, I'm not sure how often I'll feel like listening to some of them. I think it's a good album. I wouldn't call it perfect or excellent but... maybe a B or B+.