The Decemberists – The King is Dead

No comments

I should have been a big fan of The Decemberists by now.  I like progressive rock elements in music.  I like odd time changes and the unexpected introduction of instruments.  I even favor 18th and 19th century fiction authors, whose fanciful or Elizabethan character sets meld nicely with the lyrics of songwriter Colin Meloy.

Well, I tried.  I listened to The Crane Wife and Picaresque, both highly regarded by their fans.  Maybe it was the tinny vocals of Meloy, or perhaps it was the wordiness of the lyrics, but it just didn’t connect.  By the same logic, I should be put off with Peter Gabriel’s shortness of breath and the verbosity of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, but… I like that one a lot (especially the first half).  I actually like concept albums, whether from Genesis or Frank Sinatra.  Which leads to the conclusion that although the band’s music is complex in many ways, it just hasn’t satisfied.  The vocals, the lyrics, the music… too precocious for my tastes.

So why am I listening to their new release, The King is Dead?

Others’ reviews, of course.  “A breezy, country-folk record with no discernable narrative” (Pitchfork).  “Ten crisp roots-rock tunes in a mere 40 minutes” (Spin).  “… taut, disciplined, melodic guitar pop” (Guardian).  Well, the $7.99 price at Best Buy helped.

The CD begins with “Don’t Carry it All,” which bring to mind a Death Cab for Cutie song crossed with Tom Petty.  Then there’s “Calamity Song,” which struck me as REM before I realized that Peter Buck plays on three tracks on this CD.  It’s a good tune.   Up next is “Rise to Me,” which recalls Gibbard and Ferrar’s Big Sur.  And so the inspirations continue.

“Rox in the Box” – The Waterboys or any other Irish inspired folk.  “January Hymn” – Perhaps a James Taylor vocal would sound at home. “Down by the River” – REM with Neil Young on harmonica?  “All arise” – a duet that might be interesting with Levon Helm and Delbert McClinton.  “June Hymn” – a simple acoustic ballad leaning towards early Simon/Garfunkel or Neil Young with Gillian Welch on vocals?  Well, yes, the Americana genre ace actually does backup duty here and elsewhere.   “This is Why We Fight” – an admitted nod to The Smiths.  “Dear Avery” – perhaps Damien Rice.

Sure, it’s fun to point to imagine or reimagine, but there’s really no need.  The entire set is a fairly compact, straightforward and lyrically succinct endeavor.  But that’s not to say that this is a musically simplistic work.  Instruments abound in diversity (cello, electric piano, fiddle, banjo, bouzouki, the dreaded pedal steel, violin, etc.). 

And it shouldn’t be implied that Meloy confines his word-smithing to a “write a song in 3 easy steps” approach.  The lyrics are a combination of prose and poetry, and the rhyming is inventive.  In fact, it’s rather amazing to read how Meloy sneaks such depth into songs that quickly flitter by.  That said, i-Listeners should take note that some albums, such as this, work better as a whole rather than choosing a few choice parts. 

Recommended Songs: “Calamity Song,” “Down by the Water”

4 of 5 STARS

No comments :

Post a Comment