Decemberists riot against good music in Hazards
Before I begin my review, I want to say that without the Decemberists, I probably wouldn’t be listening to the stuff I know and love today. However, this does not mean that The Decemberists are infallible. After the 2005 release of Picaresque and its change over to Capital Records, the sea shanties were lost and the band’s elaborate nature dissipated, signifying a wave of change. The Decemberists from yesteryear were never to be heard from again.
Two records later, the Portland-based band is back with its newest release, The Hazards Of Love. It’s a trying effort, but turns out sounding like a mix between typical folk and puesdo-prog indie-rock. Yes, Hazards Of Love does have its merits, but it misses integral trait that make an album good: exuberance.
The style of the album is set up to resemble an episodic drama, focused around fictional characters Margaret, William, their baby and love in the forest.
Each song weaves a different tale, complete with guest vocalists Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond to voice some of the characters. The album also provides no breather: All of the tracks bleed into one another, creating the feel of an actual story. For you diehard Decemberists fans, Hazards can be compared to the near1y eight-minute The Tain EP, first released in 2004.
Delving into the album, the listener is greeted by a three-minute prelude, which flows into “The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle the Thistles Undone).” The track introduces Margaret, the protagonist of the story, trying to rescue a deer that turns out to be William, a shape-shifting creature.
“A Bower Scene” tells that Margaret is pregnant. The track is full of heavy riffs and frantic drum fills. Frontman Colin Meloy builds up his vocal vigor to match the effect of the music.
The applause-worthy “Won’t Want For Love” welcomes Stark as the part of Margaret. Her beautiful soprano voice entwines nicely with Meloy’s nasally vocals. “Won’t Want For Love” still features the dirge-y tunes, but Stark’s voice adds a graceful touch to the song.
So far, Hazardsrevolves solely on the story and vocals, rather than the music.
The presentation of the music is weak and lackluster. It is supposed to add and give the story dimension. If the album was a spoken-word piece, then it would have been better, but the music just makes it drag.
Until “The Rake Song,” the songs follow the same formula: boring music arrangements, decent vocals and storyline. “The Rake Song” is the dark single from Hazards. The lyrics are easy to follow, with Meloy nearly yelling “All right, all right, all right” at the chorus. “The Rake Song” is the catchiest song on the 17-track album.
“The Queen’s Rebuke/The Crossing” introduces the forest queen, voiced by Worden. Her Fiona Apple-like vocals send shivers up your spine, while epic organ and guitar parts wrangle the music together. It’s nice to actually hear the organ for a change.
Just like a story, the album reaches its climax. In “The Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge!),” Rake’s murdered children return to haunt him. And oh, is the song creepy. Out of tune violins, distorted drum parts and Phantom of the Opera-like organs accompany the singing children.
With a sudden burst of life, “The Wanting Comes in Waves (Reprise)” begins. This track is the closest thing to the Decemberists of Picaresque fame. It’s refreshingly simple, with all of the instruments working together instead of overpowering one another. The reprise ends in a fury of cymbal crashes, setting the stage for the last track of the album.
In “The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned),” Margaret and William reunite after she had been kidnapped. They marry in a duet of great vocals. The song sounds like something out of a romantic One Tree Hill scene, but it works. With the music subdued and countrified, it is a nice ending to the longwinded story.
All in all, the album is not the best work of the Decemberists. However, Hazards Of Love does set up a good story, which still lives in the band’s tradition.
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