Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Review: The Decemberists- The King Is Dead

Why everyone saw "The Hazards of Love" as a dissapointment is beyond me. Yeah, the stoner metal riffs are a bit silly and the narrative was as hard to follow as all hell, but damned if you didn't feel it, and if you've really listened to a Decemberists album, you've felt it. It being that feeling of home, of live, of loss, and of needing to find a dictionary to figure out what Colin Meloy just said. There's no riffs here, they've seemed to be replaced with harmonicas, and while there isn't a elaborate story to be had, Meloy still sings like he just took a turn of the century english class, yes folks, it's back to basics, and the band brings "it".

Before the release, Meloy had been propping this up as a record indebted to the Godfathers of Alt-Rock in R.E.M., surely the vibe is here and it's not just Peter Buck's guitar playing (yes, he's on the album), but it's also the songs of love, being misunderstood, and feelings of being the only one on earth that understands what is going on. Michael Stipe was the king of witty, over your head lyrics, Meloy understands that, tries to one up it, and while he doesn't, he succeeds at doing more than a passable job of it.

"Don't Carry It All" is the first track off the album and lays the groundwork perfectly on what to expect. You get accordians, harmonicas, and arena rock songs done in folksy bravado. It's a weird mixture, but it works. It's heartland music, and I think I hear a celtic influence, maybe it's a lute, I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised. "Calamity Song" is a romper, almost as if you're supposed to get your boots on and go stepping, make no mistake, under the right name, this song is probably a nice country hit and sung by a female, it would probably top the charts.

Two of the album's highlights come in the middle of the album, with most of us having heard the songs several times over before the whole thing was released. "Rox In The Box" is the formula of the album done to perfection. Dueling male and female voices on the chorus are prime to show what the band has done well since their inception. This song has a damn accordian solo for fuck sake, but it never sounds as pretentious as it should, in fact, the song would probably suck without it.

First single "Down By The Water" is the album's other great highlight. If the band ever wrote something remotely close to a single, this is it. It's not as much a single as it is something that would be at home on Springsteen's "Nebraska" or "The River", though I'm guessing that's the point with many bands these days as many of them seem to become indebted to the arena spectacle of The Boss or The Fake Dylan Springsteen. Either way, it's fine and easy to get behind, much like The Boss himself.

Unlike most of the output from the band, there really aren't many wasted moments, "The King Is Dead" is a 10 song, 40 minute collection of songs that the band has always been capable of writing. That being said, there's no wasted time in the albums second half. Even "This Is Why We Fight", the album's longest cut at just over five minutes feels like it belongs and would weaken the album without its inclusion, it's also probably the closest the band gets to a "rocker" on the album which isn't saying much at all. Meanwhile "Dear Avery", the following track and album closer, is a somber piece of music and exactly the type of beautifully written tune that The Decemberists can always turn to. They're quite good at it when they want to be, this track is no exception.

It would be unfair to call "The King Is Dead" the first great album of 2011. It's not a great album, but it's still a very worthy album to stand alongside everything they've done. The next 11 months will tell if it'll stand, but for now, you won't find a better album to engage cold nights and early spring weather. Most bands go back to their basics and fall flat, The Decemberists went back and proved they're still capable and show why they're always relevant within the Alt-Rock world. They're a gateway to those of us who were young when R.E.M. were the kings. Now there isn't a king. Is the king really dead? Not really, but neither are The Decemberists ability to craft excellent music.

**** out of *****

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