Pity Death Cab for Cutie singer-songwriter Ben Gibbard. If his band's seventh CD is any indication, meaningful female companionship still eludes him (perhaps alarming news to his girlfriend!). But even if he can't shake lovesickness on Narrow Stairs, the band gives him no quarter with a full-bodied attack. Moving on from the expansive production of their breakout album, 2003's Transatlanticism, and their 2005 major-label debut, Plans, Death Cab continue their quest to give tenderhearted laments arena-rock punch.
Gibbard and producer-guitarist Chris Walla have expanded Death Cab's musical palette by allowing melodies to slowly unfold. Sorrowful single ''I Will Possess Your Heart'' rides a hypnotic groove that crumbles into shards of noise, while the end-of-days ''Grapevine Fires'' conjures Radiohead with its warm riff and shambling beat. There's even a bit of whimsy in ''You Can Do Better Than Me,'' a pocket symphony of glockenspiel and timpani.
Alas, when it comes to the lyrics, the songs remain the same. When Gibbard sings ''How I wish you could see the potential...of you and me'' on ''I Will Possess Your Heart,'' you want to give him a hug and a Xanax. In ''Your New Twin Sized Bed,'' he uses a Posturepedic as a metaphor for a lonely life: ''...The other side of the mattress and box spring stayed like new/And what's the point of holding on to what never gets used.'' A lesser band would shadow Gibbard's woe with their shoulders hunched. Instead, Death Cab's ebullience makes this a redemptive work about sadness. And there's nothing Narrow-minded about that. B
DOWNLOAD THIS: Hear a preview of ''Grapevine Fires'' at mtv.com