**1/2 (out of four)
You have to wonder if Ben Gibbard ever feels at all resentful. His two widely celebrated bands, Death Cab for Cutie and the one-off collaboration Postal Service, helped pave the way for indie-indebted acts like fun. and Owl City that have topped the charts recently. His former wife, Zooey Deschanel, is now a household name with her TV show “New Girl,” symbolizing the kind of hip/awkward sensibility that Death Cab made cool. Meanwhile on his new solo album “Former Lives,” here’s Gibbard, playing a bunch of songs that supposedly didn’t fit on previous group albums and may or may not be about his divorce, for an audience that is presumably much smaller than the one watching Fox on Tuesday nights.
It might be depressing if the sort of sad-sack musings on loneliness that fill “Former Lives” weren’t in his wheelhouse. But this type of stuff -- we’re talking songs about staring out rain-streaked windows (on “Teardrop Windows”) -- helped make Death Cab and Postal Service swell to some great heights. “Former Lives” especially offers some echoes of early Death Cab. Songs like “Bigger than Love,” which draws on the story of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, mine the confused, frustrated relationship dynamics that Gibbard used to routinely explore, while understated highlight “Lily” explores the same turf as Death Cab fan favorite “I Will Follow You Into the Dark.”
It’s certainly possible to come at these songs looking for gossip mag insights, but it’s really a more broadly reflective album than a specific relationship portrait. It’s not going to win many fans who don’t already enjoy the kind of calm, mopey ground covered by Gibbard’s other bands. You can see why any of these songs that were Death Cab outtakes might have been outtakes. Still, it’s a solid statement from a guy who still has plenty to say.
In concert: Nov. 2 at Athenaeum Theatre
Kyle Kramer is a RedEye special contributor. @redeyechimusic
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