After the success he had with his band Death Cab for Cutie, Benjamin Gibbard released his first solo album, Former Lives, last week. He has performed without his band several times before, but it has always been in collaboration with other artists, making this his first true solo album. The performances are quite impressive, considering he played many of the instruments himself. Gibbard’s lyrics are often filled with imagery, and he didn’t deviate from that trend here. In “Lady Adelaide”, he contrasts melancholy lyrics with an upbeat tempo, similarly to the songs of Bright Eyes or Elliott Smith. At times, his lyrics are particularly imaginative, especially in his first single, “Teardrop Windows”, a personification of Seattle’s Smith Tower as it is overshadowed by the construction of the Space Needle. Although each song on the album is individually well done, there doesn’t seem to be much holding them together besides sharing an album. There’s no emotional flow from one song to the next. The lack of connection can also be seen in the diversity of styles. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The album opens with a very short a capella piece (“Shepherd’s Bush Lullaby”). The tracks that follow include the upbeat love song (“Lily”), a country song with twangy guitar (“Broken Yolk in Western Sky”), a piano tune reminiscent of The Beatles (“Duncan, Where Have You Gone?”), and even a song featuring a mariachi band (“Something’s Rattling”). The wide variety may seem disorganized, but it definitely shows off Gibbard’s talent as a multifaceted songwriter. One song to look out for is “Bigger Than Love”, an incredible duet featuring Aimee Mann. Mann’s voice is beautifully mature and really complements Gibbard’s. The song’s quick tempo and catchy melody will have it stuck in your head within seconds. Even if the songs don’t seem to fit together, each song on its own is good enough to make you appreciate Gibbard’s skill as an artist. Former Lives is well-performed, well-written, and well worth the purchase.  MMM ½

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