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September 29, 2008 | by  | in Music |
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Death Cab for Cutie – Narrow Stairs

Narrow Stairs isn’t a bad album. In fact, there’s very little to complain about at all. But.

The Photo Album was one of the best of the albums from the second wave of emo that developed in the 90s. Transatlanticism built on this, to be, in my opinion, straight up one of the best albums of the decade. It is very difficult for anyone to not enjoy such carefully crafted songs. The happy/sad feel of both is very well done indeed.

Plans
is not of the same standard. It too is a very good album, and I can fully understand why some would even prefer it. The album is darker and slower as a whole, but attracted a wider audience. But it also marked a move away from the style of The Photo Album and Transatlanticism; a move that was not entirely successful.

Narrow Stairs continues the progression, if it can be called that. It’s generally less emo, as basically fairly traditional pop rock, designed to appeal to the indie kids. But as a whole, Narrow Stairs falls flat. There simply aren’t enough standout tracks for it to be excellent, and too much seems like filler. Pretty good filler, as far as it goes. But filler nonetheless.

Lyrically, it is a weaker album than anything else they’ve produced, including the frankly awful You Can Play These Songs With Chords. This would be forgivable, if the music itself could make up for it. But it can’t.

The weak opening of ‘Bixby Canyon Bridge’ is characteristic, for the most part, of what is to come. Stand-out tracks are ‘I Will Possess Your Heart’ and ‘Cath…’. ‘I Will Possess Your Heart’ has seen its share of time on repeat, because it’s straight up amazing. It shows what Death Cab for Cutie are still perfectly capable of: genius. But the rest of the album cannot compare. ‘No Sunlight’ is the same kind of dancearound- your-kitchen sadfun that characterised their earlier work, but unfortunately it’s just not as good.

It seems a little unfair to call Death Cab for simply making more of the same, seeing as that’s really what I want from them. Death Cab have never been a groundbreaking band, and that’s not going to change. But the more of the same that’s on show on Narrow Stairs lacks the beauty of their earlier albums. It’s as though all have started with roundabout the same ideas, but the earlier albums have been distilled so that all that was left was pure, delicious, empathic pop. Narrow Stairs is not a bad album, but there are simply not enough stand out tracks for it to be good. Which is unfortunate.

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