Note: This review was written in March but, for some reason, never posted. Enjoy.
After skirting the spectre of the concept album on their previous release, The Crane Wife, The Decemberists have returned with a full blown, unabashed, concept record that is bound to continue their growing fame.
I was going to try to write a song-by song review or a narrative of my listening experience but, breaking this album down in such a way does it no justice. I could attempt to recount the tale told on the album but that too would not do it justice. From the “Prelude” as it eases into life from distant rumbling to rushing organs and guitars through the passionate “Wager All” to the heavy guitars and vocals of “The Wanting Comes In Waves”, this record has everything one could want from The Decemberists.
They have grown in leaps with each record from the arcane folk shanties on the early albums (wherein the band felt to be far more of a backup instrument to Colin Meloy’s songwriting) to the 18 minute epic single, The Tain, to their last album The Crane Wife on which they began to embrace their capacity to rock. Now they submit a work that flat out rocks with mastery. They steer from quiet, romantic, ballad to balls to the wall power chords and back again deftly and with purpose.
Meloy’s well crafted songs are as strong as ever; rather than be overshadowed by the heftier arrangements they thrive and live in a world all the more vivid. “The Rake Song” contains the darkest of Meloy’s work of late telling a dire tale of a man who, upon finding himself a widower left with three children, seeks to divest himself of “burden”. Wow. Dark but a strong and even catchy song. “The Wanting Comes In Waves” was an early favorite but, after a few more listens, I think that that “Wager All” has surpassed it in my personal estimation. Honorable mention to the flat-out metal (ala early Tull or Sabbath) on “The Queen’s Rebuke/The Crossing” that number straight rawks.
All in all, this is a fabulous record which proves that The Decemberists are far more than an indie flash-in-the-pan. These guys are a dynamic and growing group that has clearly a lot more to offer than a few pretty songs. Buy this record (yes, I said “record” it is available on vinyl) and give it repeated listens. Best if played through in a sitting rather than shuffled on your iPod, this album reveals itself more and more with each listen. This is a must-buy record folks, and is likely to appear prominently atop many top ten lists come December and January.
Btw, the cd and lp are available everywhere but I can’t say enough about the friendly customer service at The Decemberists’ online shop. Check them out, buy this record and any of their previous releases that you might have missed. Did I mention that all of their albums are available on vinyl?