Give Up is the only studio album by American indie band The Postal Service, released on February 18, 2003, through Sub Pop Records.
The band began as a side project between electronic music artist Jimmy Tamborello and Death Cab for Cutie's vocalist Ben Gibbard. The two had previously worked together for a track on Dntel's album Life Is Full of Possibilities.
The Postal Service's sole full-length release, Give Up was the second Sub Pop Records release to receive platinum certification, their best-selling album since Nirvana's Bleach. The album peaked at #114 on the U.S. Billboard 200 album chart in its initial release; the 2013 tenth-anniversary reissue of the album peaked at #45 in April 2013. As of January 2013, Give Up had sold 1.07 million copies.
The album was generally well-received, and critics noted its throwbacks to 1980s new wave. In 2006, Apple released an advertisement for the iMac that was said to be very similar to the video for the "Such Great Heights" single. The band did not take legal action, but Tamborello later stated in an interview that they "got a little bit of compensation from them for it" in the form of "attention from iTunes and stuff like that".
Production and compositionThe Postal Service's two members – Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and electronic music artist Jimmy Tamborello – had previously collaborated on "(This Is) The Dream of Evan and Chan" before deciding to record a full-length album together. The two worked on the album separately; in December 2001, Tamborello sent a CD-R of electronic music to Gibbard, who added melodies and wrote lyrics. He then added drums, guitar and keyboards at Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla's recording studio and sent the CD back to Tamborello. This process of mailing each other their work on the album continued; after ten months and two trips by Gibbard to Los Angeles to record vocals, the album was completed. The group called themselves "The Postal Service" because of this method of trading ideas. Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis provided backup vocals after being cold called by Gibbard, who knew her when Rilo Kiley was on the same label as Death Cab for Cutie.
Give Up primarily deals with themes of love, as well as fame, history, and friendship. "Clark Gable" is about Gibbard making home movies with an ex and "Nothing Better" is a duet between a couple about to break up. Allmusic's Heather Phares compared "Nothing Better" to The Human League's "Don't You Want Me?" and Gibbard later confirmed that "Don't You Want Me?" was the inspiration for the song. Gibbard said that "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight", "Brand New Colony" and "This Place Is a Prison" were the only songs that bordered on autobiographical. He went on to say that "Such Great Heights" was the first song he had ever written that was positive about love.
Critics compared it to the eighties synthpop and new wave genres. Pitchfork Media's Matt LeMay and Phares both commented on the contrasts between the "cool, clean synths" and Gibbard's vocal melodies. Phares went on to liken "This Place Is a Prison" to Björk's recent works. Death Cab for Cutie had previously covered Björk's "All Is Full of Love" on their The Stability EP.
Release and promotionGive Up was released February 18, 2003 on Sub Pop in the U.S. It was later released in the UK on April 23, 2003. , it had sold over 900,000 copies. It was awarded a platinum certification on October 4, 2012, the second Sub Pop record to do so. The album led to three singles; "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight", "Such Great Heights" and "We Will Become Silhouettes", of which only "We Will Become Silhouettes" charted, reaching 82 on the Billboard Hot 100.
The band toured the U.S. from April to August 2003, including Jenny Lewis in the line-up for all but one of the performances. Lewis provided vocals as well as guitar and keyboards. In the sole performance that Lewis missed, a festival in Spain, friend Joan Hiller sang and Chris Walla played her guitar and keyboard parts. Death Cab for Cutie bassist Nick Harmer was in charge of the tour's visuals. Tamborello later said in an interview that Gibbard had been nervous about touring, as the audience may have been bored by what they saw as "a guy with a computer onstage". This was partly the motivation for using visual effects such as videos and lights, which included small films for each song.
In February 2013, Sub Pop announced that a Tenth Anniversary edition of Give Up would be released, featuring fifteen bonus tracks, including two newly recorded songs. "Turn Around" was released to radio on June 4, 2013.
ControversiesIn January 2006, Apple released an advertisement for the iMac that was said to be very similar to The Postal Service's video for "Such Great Heights". Some created videos that played the advertisement and the music video side by side to make the resemblance clear. It was later revealed that the advertisement had been created by the filmmakers who had made the music video. Ben Gibbard said on the band's website:The band did not take legal action, but Tamborello later stated in an interview that they "got a little bit of compensation from them for it" in the form of "attention from iTunes and stuff like that".
The United States Postal Service served the band with a cease and desist letter citing tarnishing and dilution of their trademark. The band initially considered renaming themselves, but eventually came to a settlement that involved the band playing at a conference and the sale of the album in the USPS online store. Tamborello later said of their conference performance:
Critical receptionGive Up was generally well received by music critics. It holds a score of 79 out of 100 on review aggregate site Metacritic, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Matt LeMay of online music magazine Pitchfork called the album "a pretty damned strong record, and one with enough transcendent moments to forgive it its few substandard tracks and ungodly lyrical blunders". Will Hermes of Entertainment Weekly wrote that "Ben Gibbard radiates claustrophobia, so the shut-in synth-pop of this side project fits him like a leotard", calling Give Up "the near-perfect pop record that's eluded his main group." The Village Voices Robert Christgau praised its "staying power" and felt that "Gibbard's delicate voice matches the subtle electro arrangements far more precisely than it does the folky guitars of his real group".
Heather Phares of AllMusic felt that while Give Up did not measure up to either Gibbard or Tamborello's main projects, it was nonetheless "far more consistent and enjoyable than might be expected." Michaelangelo Matos of Rolling Stone described the album as "a cuddly little new wave reverie" and wrote that "Tamborello's delightful pings and whistles fit Gibbard's whimsy perfectly." Devon Powers of PopMatters remarked that "like any worthy match, the coming together gives each aspect assets that they'd be wont to find otherwise", concluding that the album "integrates the human and the humanoid to give soundtrack to the disconnected, yet earnest escapades of contemporary emotional life."
Pitchfork placed Give Up at number 104 on their list of top 200 albums of the 2000s. Rolling Stone ranked the album at number 86 on their list of the 100 Best Albums of the Decade.