“I’m a whole lot of trouble,” she warns on the first song, a cautionary tale about love on the rocks. She never would have been able to deliver that kind of line on her first two albums, both of which muffled her personality in layers of tame, toothless adult-contemporary pop. “Glassheart” takes its cues from Kylie Minogue and “Confessions”-era Madonna, though, and it proves that Miss Lewis has a serious bite.
As the frontman of Death Cab for Cutie, Ben Gibbard has built a career on the fault line between adorable, whimsical pop music and cloying, saccharine mistakes. He ditches his band mates on this solo album, but “Former Lives” still straddles that familiar border, balancing a handful of sunny, pleasant songs with a few numbers that are too cute for their own good.
“Former Lives” doesn’t really sound like Death Cab. Mr. Gibbard’s distinctive, Kermit-like vocals haven’t changed a bit, but he allows himself some wiggle room when it comes to the actual songs, which touch upon folk, country and mariachi music over the course of 36 minutes.
Those detours wind up being the most interesting thing about “Former Lives.” The Western-themed “Something’s Rattling (Cowpoke)” finds room for a Tex-Mex horn section, and “Duncan, Where Have You Gone” mixes the chord progression from Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” with the lush, stacked harmonies of a Carpenters classic.
Written after Mr. Gibbard’s public divorce from actress Zooey Deschanel, “Former Lives” has a darker side, too. Many of its characters are sad and heartbroken, and even the sunniest chord progression can’t hide the meaning behind a song such as “Oh, Woe.” You can’t help but wish Mr. Gibbard had brought that darkness to the forefront, though, especially when he reverts back to slap-happy songs such as “Shepherd’s Bush Lullaby,” an a cappella song that sounds like the work of an unrehearsed indie-pop barbershop quartet.