The Decemberists



    It�s been almost two weeks and twenty-five cups of coffee and I�m still no closer to having a firm grasp on Picaresque, the third album from opera-rock (and not rock-opera) quintet the Decemberists, than I was when it arrived stuffed in a manila envelope.


    But this I have figured out: These guys have a bit of soul to go with their uneasy fondness for community theater. Besides the Motown beat-jacking in �The Sporting Life,� there�s the genuine heartstring-pulling of lead singer Colin Meloy in lines like �I am a writer � I�ve written pages upon pages/ Trying to rid you from my bones,� from �The Engine Driver,� and the poor man�s yearning in �Eli, the Barrow Boy� almost made me forget it�s a song about, eh, a barrow boy named Eli.

    He�s got other tricks, too. With vox cut from the same strained cloth as Bright Eyes� Conor Oberst and a Morrissey-summoned talent for lyrics that go down about as easy as vodka-flavored sandpaper, Meloy dupes a beautiful melody into letting him sing about runaway prostitutes in �On the Bus Mall� and God knows what else in �The Bagman�s Gambit.� Like all good pop music, it�s creepy, brave and uncomfortably catchy.

    Meloy�s songwriting complexities and the band�s soaring arrangements should one day give them a Modest Mouse-style breakthrough. But for now the campy role-playing resembles one of those purposely bad SNL sketches (usually the ones about community theater), and chunks of Picaresque feel (yes, pun intended) staged. But honest moments like �Of Angels and Angles,� the quiet closer, remind us why we stay past intermission.

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