Artist: "The Decemberists"
Album: "The Hazards of Love"
Label: Capital Records
Review: Love it or hate it, there's no denying that The Hazards of Love is the album that The Decemberists have been building up to their whole career. On 2006's The Crane Wife they had three pieces that told the titular story, along with a three-in-one song epic called "The Island". Here they take that several steps forward--instead of weaving the story songs throughout the rest of the album, the entire seventeen song set is one continuous story.
There are good sides and bad sides to this. On one hand, the album takes several listens to fully get into and start appreciating, because it takes that long to familiarize yourself with all the repeated musical themes. Also, many of these tracks start awkwardly or end abruptly on their own (you wouldn't want to put some of them on a mix cd), as they are meant to flow seamlessly from one to the next. But if you're patient and give yourself time to absorb the whole album, it's extremely rewarding and I feel it's their strongest work to date.
The story is admittedly rather vague: basically a woman named Margaret travelling through the woods finds a hurt fawn in the woods who shapeshifts into a man named William whom she falls in love with. The man's adoptive mother, "the forest queen", gets jealous and hires a rakish fellow (who murdered all of his children) to kidnap Margaret and keep her in a tower. William rescues her somehow, the rake's murdered children get their revenge somehow, and then Margaret and William get married right before they drown in their escape. A lot of the details are a bit fuzzy or missing, and it comes across more as songs that should be part of a play (with the other bits filled in by non-musical scenes) than a stand-alone story. But really, who cares? The story is just an excuse for these songs to exist.
There are four different characters who appear on the album with singing parts. William and the Rake are both sung by Colin Meloy, Becky Stark appears as Margaret and My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden performs the Forest Queen. She only has two parts sung in character but her voice is fucking amazing. Her two bits are some of the best highlights on the album. All other narration is sung by Meloy.
The best songs on the album are "The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid", where William expresses his desire for Margaret with siren-wailing female voices in the background, and his adoptive mother expresses her disappointment accompanied by the hardest rocking theme on the album; "The Rake's Song", in which we hear the fucked up story of how he brutally murdered his children; "Won't Want For Love" with Margaret declaring her love for William with a clockwork buildup musical arrangement; the acoustic guitar strummy "Annan Water", where William promises the wild river he needs to cross to save Margaret that if it lets him pass it can claim his precious bones upon his return (which is why he and Margaret drown at the end--kind of a dumb deal to have struck, really--what's the point of rescuing her if he's made a deal that results in both of their deaths right afterward?).
The Decemberists have never done something so ambitious as this project, and it has paid off for them big time, because this is an extremely impressive thematic album, and in my opinion their best work yet. On a side note, if you get a chance to catch them live on their current tour you should definitely do so. They play the entire album from start to finish with no pauses (and with the guest vocalists who performed on the album), and then they come back on stage to do a second set of older songs. You absolutely couldn't ask for a better deal for your money, and you will appreciate this album even more after seeing the entire thing performed.
(Scored on a 0.5 - 5 pickles rating: 0.5 being the worst and 5 being the best)
@HolyJack - Because it's the same thing every week. 'This is one of my favourite alt rock/indie albums and here' why'. A little variety, you know? Like -ROG- once did a review of a band who basically did NES-style music. Just something new and different every now and then that makes people open their eyes to what music is really out there (whether its funny, wierd, or just incredibly awesome). Alt-rock appreciation day does little for that
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