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First, the bad news: Give Up doesn't offer 45 solid minutes of the same wholesale excellence that appeared in condensed form on "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan"; if anything, the album's occasional missteps serve to elucidate what exactly made the first collaboration between Tamborello and Gibbard so effective. Still, the core tension between Tamborello's intricate production and Gibbard's cutting voice makes Give Up a pretty damned strong record, and one with enough transcendent moments to forgive it its few substandard tracks and ungodly lyrical blunders.
Tamborello and Gibbard put their best foot forward with "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight", which exemplifies the two best elements of this entire collaboration: contrast and subtlety. Here, Gibbard's vocal melody and Tamborello's instrumentation build independently to a perfectly orchestrated emotional climax, replete with hiss-laden sampled strings and ethereal background vocals. There's a noticeable clash between Gibbard's emotive singing and the upbeat drum machine line that drives the track's second half, but Tamborello's production is loaded with enough warm, melodic instrumentation to provide a surprisingly apt background for Gibbard's sincere tenor. The song also benefits from possessing some of the album's stronger lyrics.
"Such Great Heights", the album's debut single, offers Give Up's strongest melody, but its lyrical parallels to N'Sync's "God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You" make it just a bit hard to swallow. It hurts me to hear the words, "I am thinking it's a sign/ That the freckles in our eyes are mirror images/ And when we kiss they're perfectly aligned," sung to such a unique and riveting melody. Of course, the song is a fine work of literature compared to "Sleeping In", which claims the record's most thoroughly cringe-worthy lines: "Last night I had the strangest dream/ Where everything was exactly how it seemed/ Where there was never any mystery/ About who shot John F. Kennedy." I realize there were probably some time constraints, but the vivid and intriguing lyrics of "Evan and Chan" proved Gibbard capable of much, much better than "I want so badly to believe that there is truth and love is real."
Fortunately, Give Up overcomes its highly questionable lyrical choices, and the sometimes painful duets between Gibbard and indie folkster Jen Wood, purely on the strength of Gibbard's consistently strong melodies, which carry far greater impact in the context of Tamborello's hyperactive electro-pop than they have on recent Death Cab for Cutie releases. And Tamborello's production gives the intricate precision of Life Is Full of Possibilities a caffeinated overhaul, here forsaking the time-honored glitch of that album for bright, danceable beats. While it may be impressive that the unified and cohesive vision of Give Up was the result of a par avion collaboration, it's anything but surprising given the talent behind it and the immense chemistry shared by these two musicians.
-Matt LeMay, February 10, 2003
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