Review: Ben Gibbard blossoms into new solo career with ‘Former Lives’

Michael Bragg

Ediotr’s Note: The following reflects the opinions of the author.

Ben Gibbard sounds overwhelmingly relieved to be free from his obligations to sing exclusively in minor progressions and defeated metaphors.

“Former Lives” feels much more grown-up than Gibbard’s previous work with Death Cab for Cutie, something that works surprisingly well for him. He croons in a new and unexpected manner, and is obviously is having fun with it.

The variety of instruments including ukulele and horns, as well as the collaborations of several up and coming artists, seem to allow Gibbard to branch out from his usual work.


“Former Lives” provides a new outlet for Gibbard to show off his astonishing songwriting abilities without the preconceived notions of what is expected of his other bands. This mixed bag of tempos and styles shows listeners the true extent to which Gibbard is capable of creating a catchy tune.

The songs are overall extremely happy and upbeat, without the hidden layers of meaning obscuring the true meaning of the words often found in Death Cab for Cutie.

Rather, these songs are simple, upbeat and mostly about girls. The whole album flows like a dream sequence that never ends.

And frankly, it’s adorable.

The lyrics can be described as nothing other than smart. The usually complex and depressive genius of Death Cab for Cutie has been applied to simple heartbreak and admiration, and it works better than expected.

Gibbard presents the songs on the album in a way that feels deeply personal and almost intimate. Despite the poetic phrasings and witty timing, however, there is some sense of disconnect between Gibbard and the words he sings. According to Gibbard in a statement, these songs span “eight years, three relationships, living in two different places, drinking then not drinking,” and thematically this is apparent to listeners. Musically it flows well, but there are no consistent characters to follow and at some points it feels as if Gibbard too has forgotten just who these people really were.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. The album does feel like a compilation rather than a single concentrated effort, rather than feeling disjointed.

“Former Lives” ultimately feels more like a “secret greatest hits” of a brand new soloist.

Rating: 4 out of 4 stars.

Story: LOVEY COOPER, A&E Editor