As a fan of the first two Death Cab for Cutie albums I have every reason to hate this record. I have every reason to hate Ben Gibbard for writing such insipid lyrics, just like I have every reason to hate Christopher Walla for making every song on this record sound as smooth as a Top 40 hit. But I just can’t bring myself to do it. There’s something about this album that I really like … even though I shouldn’t.
I used to put on Death Cab for Cutie records to feel something; to be taken into a complex and well articulated narrative; to get wrapped up in whatever lovelorn prose Gibbard was singing to me; and to feel close to it because it was once presented to me with obviously cheap and earthy lo-fi production.
I should have seen Transatlanticism coming after The Photo Album, Death Cab for Cutie’s third record. That record featured some startling changes in the band’s sound and much less personable and developed lyrics from Gibbard. I also should have seen this record coming after Ben Gibbard’s side project, the Postal Service, released The Give Up. There, Gibbard made some questionable lyrical choices at times but still produced some solid songs.
But I never thought I would be able to say that I put on a Death Cab for Cutie record to be comforted. But thanks to Transatlanticism I can. Instead of making me feel something that seemed as though it was only intended for me — like Death Cab for Cutie’s first two releases, Something about Airplanes and We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes — the music on Transatlanticism feels like a commodity intended for mass consumption.
This feeling is perfectly exemplified by the "ba ba"s in the disarmingly poppy "The Sound of Settling," the slick-as-a-baby’s-bottom production and trite lyrics of "We Looked Like Giants," or the general letdown that is the opening track, "The New Year."
Then there are the slower songs, the ones that are supposedly about showing off Gibbard’s lyrical talents. Most of them start out well intentioned — "Lightness" — but just end up repeating themselves. A few tracks shine through, like the perfect pop of "Expo ’86," the poetic nature Gibbard uses to reflect upon an unfortunate fling in the somber "Tiny Vessels," and the perfect closer "Lack of Color."
With The Photo Album Death Cab for Cutie closed the box that held its old sound. But with Transatlanicism they have nailed that box closed. It’s not that I dislike it when a band evolves and develops a new style, and there’s nothing wrong with Ben Gibbard singing a few simple catchy pop songs. I think it’s just that I almost feel cheated; I know Gibbard and his band mates are capable of much more than this.