Best-known as the frontman of Death Cab For Cutie, Washington troubadour Benjamin Gibbard has also released records with side-projects The Postal Service and All Time Quarterback! alongside a collaborative effort with Jay Farrar, but has only now made the leap to go it alone with debut solo album, Former Lives. Collected from songs penned over an eight-year period which has seen him up-sticks from his native Seattle to Los Angeles, battle with the demon drink and marry and divorce from the Queen of Kookiness, Zooey Deschanel, he hasn’t exactly been short of things to write about. Here’s a look at five examples of how all the turbulence in his personal life hasn’t been completely in vain:

Teardrop Windows

Who would have thought it would be possible to make the history of a skyscraper so tear-jerking? Possessing a Pixar style ability to give a heart and soul to even the most inanimate of objects, Gibbard pays tribute to the Smith Tower of his Seattle hometown as it struggles to cope with being dwarfed by the new building on the block, the Space Needle, on a contrastingly breezy number which melds together the country-rock of The Byrds, the widescreen Americana of R.E.M. and the crooning rockabilly pop of Roy Orbison: [LISTEN]

In old postcards was positioned as a star

He was looked up to a fonder guard

But in 1962, the needle made its big debut

And everybody forgot what it outgrew

Bigger Than Love

Despite Gibbard’s own troubled private life, Former Lives’ most heart-breaking account of a doomed relationship appears courtesy of a similarly high-profile celebrity couple from almost an entire century ago. Inspired by love letters penned during the tempestuous marriage of novelists F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, “Bigger Than Love” sees Gibbard join forces with Aimee Mannon a Teenage Fanclub-esque slice of harmony-laden folk-pop which despite depicting the pair’s habit of self-destruction in rather specific detail, concludes with a slight sense of hope that all is not lost: [LISTEN]

But what of our daughter

What of the love that we once shared

It’s living inside us

Battered but not beyond repair

Something’s Rattling (Cowpoke)

Typical of the album’s rather downbeat ‘glass half-empty’ outlook, Gibbard paints an idealistic picture of life in the open sunshine but still, his anxious frame of mind can’t shake the feeling that a storm is on the horizon. As its title suggests, “Something’s Rattling (Cowpoke)” is perhaps the first time that Gibbard’s decision to launch a solo career makes sense, its charming fusion of plucked pizzicato strings, mariachi horns and elegant strings creating something of a curveball that’s worlds apart from his day-job’s usual melancholic indie-rock fare: [LISTEN]

It’s always summer in the Southern state

And it’s a comfortable life, and a beautiful place

But something’s rattling, somewhere inside

And it sounds like it’s broken, but it’s in a place I can’t find

A Hard One To Know

The more voyeuristic listener will no doubt be trying to decipher every vowel and consonant for a hidden meaning in relation to his recent break-up. Channelling the rollicking nu-folk of Mumford and Sons with a sprinkling of jangly 80s indie-pop, “A Hard One To Know” makes it pretty easy for any wannabe Columbo with a series of amusing one-liners which compares the difficult-to-read object of his affections to everything from a traffic light to a “flower garden buried in snow:” [LISTEN]

You give your love out like an auctioneer

Your moves are jumpy and words aren’t clear

Cause you’re a hard one to know, a hard one to know

At first you smother then you disengage

Your tears of joy dissolve the tears of rage

Broken Yolk In Western Sky

“Broken Yolk In Western Sky” may sound exactly like its name suggests, a pedal steel guitar-driven country waltz that could have been written during the early 70s Laurel Canyon scene. But in contrast to its sunny musical disposition, the album’s penultimate track appears to recall the exact moment when the wheels have fallen off a particular relationship. Gibbard even mentions the dreaded ‘divorce’ word amongst melodramatic metaphors of gravelly open roads and philosophical musings about what love really is: [LISTEN]

I knew I’d never known fear before

I pressed my palms into the seat

Took one last look at you next to me

I kicked open the sliding door

And I threw myself out on the road

Torn flesh and broken bones