Against the backdrop of the now maligned ‘return of rock’ era of The Strokes, The Hives, The White Stripes et al. The Postal Service’s Give Up stood out: a credible indie album with barely a guitar and not a single nod to late seventies’ rock. Ten years on, its reissue comes out when most indie is at least electro-aware and even The Strokes have started to flirt with synths. This means it has to contend with a louder question of ‘does it stand up?’ than is normal after just a decade. The strength of the songs that earned the album its original praise and platinum status remain and though the emotional tone is undermined by Ben Gibbard’s lyrical saccharine clunkers on occasion, it’s not hard to see why Give Up is as close to people’s hearts as it is.
At its best, it’s clear why there hasn’t been a follow up and work from new sessions never materialised. Even here there are examples of how ungainly it is when they fail to clear the high bar set on songs such as ‘Such Great Heights’, ‘The District Sleeps Alone Tonight’ and ‘We Will Become Silhouettes’. Half the album is as solid as any since the millennium and it may not be fair to the other half, but the clunky lines and stretched melodies on ‘Sleeping In’, ‘Clark Gable’ and ‘Recycled Air’ jar more heavily than they should due to the quality of the rest.
Other than the production of Dntel’s Jimmy Tamborello, what set Give Up apart was the earnest tone without any wink to the audience that seemed essential for others at the time. Even when they do get a bit knowingly clever on ‘Nothing Better’, a response to The Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby?’, they turn in one of their strongest tracks. Thanks in part to Jen Woods’ giving a bit of respite from Gibbard’s schmaltz with a biting verse that begins “I feel I must interject here you’re getting carried away feeling sorry for yourself”.
For the reissue, the original ten tracks are unnoticeably remastered and a second disc is tagged on, half of which is made up of plodding remixes that tamely, or perhaps wisely, don’t do anything too drastic with the original singles. Two previously unreleased tracks ‘Turn Around’ and ‘A Tattered Line Of String’, recorded in 2006, showcase an energy lacking in the album’s weaker fare and give credence to the thought that there is life in the Postal Service yet. The three b-sides to the original singles are cast-offs and the covers of Phil Collins’s ‘Against All Odds’ and John Lennon’s ‘Grow Old With Me’ are inessential, but Iron & Wine’s ubiquitous cover of ‘Such Great Heights’ is still a treat.
Just get out the original though and it’s easy to see why Give Up was so loved, especially in an era of pastiche, and though it may fail to get the same recognition if it were released today it still deserves its high status as a classic of its time.