Album Review – The Decemberists:The Hazards of Love

The Hazards of Love - 2009

I typically enjoy the Decemberists. In fact, 2006’s “The Crane Wife” was one of my favorite albums of the decade. In general, the Decemberists have knack for loud, over the top, baroque folk-rock. In the case of “The Hazards of Love”, as was the case in “Crane Wife”, the Decemberists attempt to make the entire album into one cohesive story, not that unlike what “The Flaming Lips” did with the Yoshimi album.

The bigger the Decemberists get, the less restraint front man, Collin Meloy seems to show with regards to his grandiose story telling aspirations. Today, it seems kind of like the Decemberists are more interested in weaving their tale than they are in making music that is terribly radio friendly. With single tracks regularly reaching 6 minutes and even occasionally eclipsing the 10 minute mark, the Decemberists tend to make music that is best enjoyed by listening to the entire album as opposed to one song at a time. Individually, a lot of Decemberists songs are nothing more than a chapter in a novel as opposed to pieces that can actually stand on their own. Kind of feel like the Decemberists are channelin’ folk singers from a different era. Their passion for narrative music makes them kind of like a more nasally, indie-rock version of Harry Chapin or something. Kind of wonder how people decide to sing in a nasally voice? Seems like a lot of indie bands go that route vocally these days (The Mountain Goats, Death Cab for Cutie, Ghost is Dancing etc). It’s weird to think that nasal-core music is pretty big right now.

Anyways The Decemberists’ 2009 release, “The Hazards of Love” tells a quaint little story of a woman named Margaret. 17 songs and over an hour later Margaret has been sexually assaulted by a shape-shifter, abducted by someone named ‘the rake’ and eventually dies a bitter sweet death in the arms of her love interest.( Hmmm, never really thought that I might need to put “Spoiler Alert” at the top of an album review…) Basically, if you are looking for dramatic plot turns and raw emotion, then ‘Hazards’ definitely delivers. However, too often I feel like Meloy forgets that at the end of the day, even the most epic of musical dramas still have the occasional all cast, foot tapping, chorus line. I kind of wish he would have focused a little less on jealous queens, child murders and warlock rape, and instead spent a little bit of time writing a catchy hook or two. One of the historically great things about the Decemberists is that their songs tend to flow so well from one song to the next on their albums. ‘Hazards’ is no different. In fact the album sounds as if it is one hour long track, almost to a fault. The whole thing tends to be lacking in diversity from song to song. Felt like I was worn out by track 4 or so.

All this being said. The album isn’t a complete wash. “The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid” is an example of Meloy’ genius. The combination of roaring guitar riffs, the powerful vocals of Shara Worden and just the right amount of well placed “oooh ooh ooohs” is likely to give goosebumps and even wake-up listeners who had grown tired of the fantastical, made for TV, Lifetime melodrama that had been slowly unfolding for the past 7 tracks.

Overall, Hazards is filled with brief moments like this that allow the listener to actually feel like they are part of the whole experience. However, more often than not it feels like Meloys immense imagination and intense desire to tell his story, keeps his audience from being able to fully understand or appreciate his work. Seems like kind of a shame to have such a great song writer trapped in this world of magic and lore where no one can really get at him. Weird to say this but I feel like I would like to see Meloy and the Decemberists be restrained a little bit more on their next album by their record company, because I like to think that if guided in the right direction these guys can still make some killer music.

Is story music going to get big again?
How much creativity is too much?
What is your favorite nasal-core band?

The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love 2.5 stars out of 5.

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