Whoever said that the meek shall inherit the earth would have probably felt pretty vindicated when Death Cab For Cutie's previous album, 2008's Narrow Stairs, reached the top of the US album charts on release. This was after all a band which, having been conceived originally as a solo project by lead singer Ben Gibbard in 1997, had steadfastly avoided signing to a major label until reaching a deal with Atlantic eight years later, and one which had supported both filesharing and animal rights as part of an ethical backwash seemingly out of sorts with their new unit shifting status.
If Narrow Stairs and its accompanying off-cuts EP The Open Door marked a triumph for stickability and being true to your principles, it also ensured that any follow up would be under the microscope from many perspectives. Fans who've been around since the band's formative noises on Something About Airplanes and We Have The Facts And We're Voting Yes will be relieved to hear that the trappings of quasi fame certainly haven't gone to Gibbard's head; Codes And Keys is mercifully free of contributions from a brass section, Kanye West or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
If anything, where Narrow Stairs had the epic brushstrokes of I Will Possess Your Heart to convey an unbridled sense of purpose, the tempo here is more downbeat, no more so than on the timid opener Home Is A Fire, Gibbard's ambiguous words - "Sleep with the lights on/Shuttered with the shades drawn/There's too many windows" - doing little to lift the chilly, detached musical gloom.
If this makes to signpost towards more esoteric territory, label execs will breathe a sigh of relief at the title track's more straightforward dynamic, a simply constructed, almost country reel which shares a distant relationship with the likes of fellow art-poppers The Arcade Fire. That seems perkier, whilst You Are A Tourist is positively bullish, complete with almost rocking out guitars set to wah-wah and a contentedly rumbling bassline, although comparisons to The Stone Roses are not so much wide of the mark as shooting at a completely different target.
This sheep in wolf's clothing trick is seemingly what's allowed the Washington four piece to invade people's consciousness en masse with the stealth of an advert jingle. St.Peter's Cathedral repeats the dose, morphing from dirge like beginnings to a gilded climax which is as compelling as its neat, whilst Doors Unlocked And Open is urgent and direct, songwriting traits that Gibbard has been accused of ignoring in the past. Here and there however what is no doubt good intention strays across the dividing line between polished craft and wearisome middle of the road, most obviously on the unremarkably frumpy Unobstructed Views, although admittedly it's still a minor wrinkle.
That the intervening three years between Narrow Stairs and Codes And Keys have been good ones for Ben Gibbard can't be in question, having married Zooey Deschanel and buried a serious alcohol problem. In fairness euphoric love songs were clearly never likely to result, but whilst Death Cab For Cutie remain always worth listening to, they continue to exist on the emotional periphery, aloof and a little too distant for anything more than passing admiration.