It’s difficult to imagine an album which, at its time of release, would have seemed less likely to receive the accolade of a 10th anniversary edition than The Postal Service’s Give Up. It’s safe to say that side projects have a rather ignoble history – people still weep at the mention of Fat Les – so few could have ever expected a collaboration between Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard and Angeleno Jimmy Tamborello (aka DNTL) to inspire much of a fuss. Clearly, however, the stars were aligned for The Postal Service – the album became one of Sub Pop’s biggest sellers, introducing both artists to a whole new audience (and overshadowing their previous work) while providing the soundtrack for countless sensitive American indie movies.
Given that Give Up remains The Postal Service’s sole album, it seems particularly fitting that it receive the anniversary treatment and an accompanying tour. It’s only in retrospect that we can fully appreciate the phenomenon that the album became – and a whole generation of listeners will now get their first chance to hear these unlikely anthems performed live. The influence of Give Up is difficult to quantify – their twinkling folk-tinged electronica can be found in the charts in the shape of Owl City while bands such as Stars and Modest Mouse (who already existed in 2003) were clearly paying attention. Indeed, listening now it’s remarkable how forward-thinking this music is – it would fit into the current alternative scene neatly.
The album itself remains as concise and appealing as it ever has. The opening The District Sleeps Alone Tonight comes on like an old friend, its literate lyrics (turning “You seem so out of context in this gaudy apartment complex” into a sing-a-long line is nothing short of genius) and Beach Boys-esque harmonies proving irresistible. The ambition here is staggering – by the time of second track (and first single) Such Great Heights, it seems impossible. The duo originally referred to this song as the ‘hit’ on the album in a self-deprecating manner, so it must have been heartening for them to watch as it became a bona-fide classic. It’s been covered countless times, sound-tracked endless adverts, tv shows and films and it’s lost none of its potent romanticism. The winning streak continues with the charming Sleeping In, the lyrics of which (“I had that strange dream where everything was exactly how it seemed/Where concerns about the world getting warmer – the people thought they were just being rewarded”) seem even more apposite from the perspective of a decade on.
The album’s sweet, romantic air is pervasive, even lending a deceptive edge to a break-up song like Nothing Better. Jen Wood’s winning turn sells the song, an updated spin on The Human League’s Don’t You Want Me. Clark Gable similarly masks some ponderous lyrics behind a candy-coated façade – what initially seems like a straight-forward love song is made more interesting by lines such as “Do you ever get the fear that your perfect verse is just a lie you tell yourself to help you get by?” In fact much here makes use of an appealing dichotomy between lyrics that are tinged with desperation (We Will Become Silhouettes seems almost apocalyptic) and the kind of glimmering sounds which you can imagine watching the stars to. Gibbard’s angelically pure voice feeds into this wonderfully.
Give Up, then, remains an alluring listen. The main appeal of this anniversary edition is an added bonus disc, a ragbag assortment of b-sides, covers and remixes. The principal draw, however, is the first new material from The Postal Service in many years; two tracks, both of which feature Jenny Lewis. A Tattered Line Of String could have been recorded for Give Up originally, so closely does it follow the template laid out there. It’s good, but second new track Turn Around is more interesting with its propulsive, bouncy pop. Both bode well should The Postal Service ever get around to making that long-anticipated second album. The rest of the bonus disc is a mixed mag – the remixes in particular are inessential – but two covers by The Shins and Iron And Wine are utterly gorgeous.
All in all, then, this is an appropriate celebration – and reminder – of an album which more than deserves the accolades that are still thrown its way. Even better, it will hopefully introduce even more people to The Postal Service’s unique brilliance. Whether they take another 10 years to do something else or indeed never record again, this music remains a towering legacy.