Review ·

The Decemberists have always worn their pretension like a badge of honor, whether they were singing sea songs (2003’s Her Majesty, The Decemberists) or bringing theater geekiness to indie rock (2005’s Picaresque). But when the band jumped to Capitol in 2006 and released the mostly tepid The Crane Wife, which featured a song arc constructed around a Japanese fable, that pretension (which is typically evident in frontman Colin Meloy’s dense verbiage and tenuous story-laden album set-ups) began to take over.

 

On The Hazards of Love, a 17-song cycle that traces the story of a girl, her shape shifting lover, and a rake, the band have finally let the pompous aspect of their psyche take center stage, relegating concerns like cohesion, good hooks, and sing-along moments (which the Decemberists used to be masters at) to bit players. It’s with Hazards of Love the Decemberists win their bid to be this generation’s kings of self-absorbed prog-rock.

 

In interviews in the last few weeks, Meloy has taken to calling Hazards of Love a “rock-opera,” but not the kind that would be staged; more like the entire album is set up as one long story. It’s telling that Meloy backed off saying he’d stage the album, because Hazards of Love isn’t convincing opera or rock. The songs never really have any firm beginnings or ends (and most are actually too long and over-stuffed), and the story is mostly pointless to follow (since it’s roughly 13 tracks of  moody exposition followed by three tracks of closure) that no one will really pay attention to the supposed “climax” when the main character (voiced by Lavender Diamond’s Becky Stark) faces off against the rake and an evil queen (voiced by album MVP, My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden).  

 

However, Hazards of Love has does share one thing in common with operas -- there are a lot of big flashy moments here, like the crushing stoner-metal riff on “The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid,” the plucky rhythm and droning bass of “The Rake’s Song,” and the stomping, swaying barroom strut of “Won’t Wait for Love (Margaret in the Taiga).” Worden presides over the album’s strongest moments (she plays the voice of the evil queen) as the Decemberists rise to the task of providing her vocals the crushing authority they demand, a service they should have extended to the relatively flat and prickly segments that Meloy serves as the main character.  

 

It’s a credit to the Decemberists that they would have the chutzpah to sign to a major label and release Hazards of Love, because it’s hard to imagine a suit sitting in a room giving Meloy the thumbs up during the scene where the rake murders his children. But where past Decemberists albums rewarded delving deeply into the milieu the Decemberists had created, Hazards of Love fails to provide much worth that probing.

 

***

Band: http://www.decemberists.com

Label: http://www.capitolrecords.com

Audio: http://www.myspace.com/thedecemberists

 

Fight Like Apes - You Filled His Head With Fluffy Clouds and Jolly Ranchers, What Did You Think Was Going To Happen Pink Mountaintops Outside Love

Colin Meloy: the major contemporary one wimpy white guy with a brain.

I could go either way on this. But shocked the outrage hasn't come already.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/Ethan/nirvana-corporate-rock-whoresjpg.jpg EStan

I love the album. My favorite Decemberist's song has always been the Tain so this is right up my alley. I hope people look at it for what it is instead of trying to see it as another Her Majesty.

dm

I haven't listened to the album properly, but when I saw them perform it at SXSW I left halfway through. It was all too much for me. A little Decemberists goes along way, and a lot of Decemberists is probably overload.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/WilliamTrinity/william.jpg WilliamTrinity

i am certainly looking at it for what it is: utter banality.

i would give the "always a bridesmaid" ep a 7 or and 8. colin melloy still has it in him. i would give this a 2. hopefully he got it all out of his system.

christian

I think this disc is all right, but my problems with it are lyrical. I can deal with the lax song structures, but the big story gets in Meloy's way. His best stuff happens when he gets down in the details, cutting through the artifice of his characters and old timey stories by using one detail to show us some feeling. It happens sometimes here, but not enough, which makes it pretty hard for me to justify really giving this a lot of attention. Although, it glides along nicely enough in the background while I'm cooking.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/mfiander/profile.jpg mfiander

This is the only Decemberists album I've listened to. I enjoyed it.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/Al/batmulletjpg.jpg Al

I wholly disagree. I found the lyrics brilliant in how they tell the story. While maybe not they're best songwriting ever, it's more than enough for the story. Where I think the genius of this album really shines through is in the pure musicality of the entire thing. Beautiful key changes between songs, going from a major key and immediately setting up a minor tone in the next song with a minor third. The songs also beautifully relay both the characters and their emotions throughout, and not just vocally. The harsh, pounding in "The Rake's Song", the haunting shrieking and clashing of "Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge!), the sinister riffs for the queen, and the soft and innocent melodies of Margaret's song all make each character unique and identifiable. And even more the album climaxes perfectly. Reprises feel fresh as they intensify with rising action. And then the final drop off in Hazards 4 is a perfect ending to the album, granting a bittersweet sense of closure to the listener. I found this to be a great album. What the album may lack slightly in songwriting I think it gains back in its extraordinary musicality.

Max

I think the album is fantastic. Ya, they come back to a lot of certain riffs and what not but it's kind of needed for a story. And Max is right about the emotions and the ending. I love the fact that they write a certain part that matches the emotion of what's going on in the story and they honestly couldn't have ended it better.

Chazz Taylor

I hate this band.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/brandon/216_browser_clut.gif brandon

bwahahah

/site_media/uploads/images/users/daba/me-bermudajpg.jpg Daba

I too would like to reiterate my hate of the Decemberists.

/site_media/uploads/images/users/thestorfer/1202393jpeg.jpeg andross

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