There are certain albums that have such an impact that it is impossible to look at their successors without drawing a comparison. Arcade Fire's 'Neon Bible' fell prey to this sad truth and so unfortunately must Narrow Stairs. Though 2005's 'Plans' was the sixth full length album from Washington indie rockers Death Cab for Cutie, it was the one that brought them to the masses, charming many with its lingering subtle beauty and its moving, insightful lyrics. Containing more than one track with the power to make a grown man cry, it's a hard act to follow.
Though Narrow Stairs has an ambling pace that allows the songs unfold with a distinct lack of urgency, the character has returned to the rockier sounds of earlier Death Cab albums. Certain songs still profess the sense of contented sorrow that is layered through 'Plans' but here they stand alongside songs seeping both with bitterness and self-contradictory exuberance.
Ben Gibbard is fond of metaphors in his songwriting. It's only when compared with the complexity and depth of those employed in 'Plans' that here he seems to be stretching them a little. Though its meaning is quite different, Twin Size Bed shares a little too much of its metaphoric basis with Plans' Brothers on a Hotel Bed, while Talking Bird and Long Division merely over-simplify.
Dragged out in places, this album is far from instant gratification. Why, then, do I find myself humming its choruses over breakfast? Death Cab are growers, they always were. Let's give Narrow Stairs some time to ingrain itself indelibly in the brain, shall we?