Release Date: Mar 24, 2009
Record label: Capitol
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Review Summary: In no uncertain terms: The Hazards of Love is clearly their best album, and the best of 2009 so far. What must have been going through The Decemberists' heads as they came up with the idea for The Hazards of Love? Colin Meloy tried to put it in a clear and simple light - 'there’s an odd bond between the music of the British folk revival and classic metal, a natural connection between, like, Fairport Convention and Black Sabbath. .
First thing’s first: the new Decemberists album is a rock-opera, rather than a rock-musical, and before you say “so what?” – it has to be stressed that’s a good thing. That’s to say, the dialogue is all sung, we don’t get clumsily inserted passages of plot development, and there are plenty of singalong moments – arguably more so than ever before. (You could probably listen to this on shuffle-mode quite happily, although it’s sequenced for mounting tension, a 14-minute / four-song suite to close, and strategic reprises of the leitmotif, whether or not you’re following the plot unfolding in the lyrics.
D rawing on folk archetypes and Fairport Convention, this song cycle concerning Margaret, her swain William and forest queens is as dazzling as it is beautiful. The dexterity and lyrical reach make most other bands seem aimless..
King Decemberist Colin Meloy's love for the heydays of British folk-rock has always served as the foundation on which he builds his crafty, idiosyncratic chamber pop, but on Hazards of Love he's taken that bedrock and built his own version of Stonehenge. A 17-song suite (think one continuous song with track ID's peppered throughout for sanity's sake) about a girl named Margaret, shapeshifters, forest queens, and fairytale treachery, Hazards of Love is ambitious, pretentious, obtuse, often impenetrable, and altogether pretty great. Harking back to the late-'60s/early-'70s offerings from bands like Pentangle, Horslips, ELP, Steeleye Span, and the Incredible String Band, it makes no apologies for its nerdy, prog rock musicality, and convoluted narrative.
There have been signs that this was coming. In 2004, the Decemberists released The Tain, an EP that consisted of a single 18-minute song, broken into movements and retelling, in its own vague way, an Irish folk legend of the same name. The band was coming off of a period of youthful exuberance, having released their debut, Castaways and Cutouts, in 2002, and its follow-up Her Majesty only a year later.
The relationship between American alt-rock and the British folk revival of the 60s is a surprising one. You might think an impassable cultural and aesthetic gulf lay between the two genres, but there's evidence of an intermittent transatlantic love affair. The blanched, taut solos of Television were indebted to Richard Thompson's attempts to develop a blues-free language for the electric guitar.
Nobody got into the Decemberists for the riffs. In other ways, though, the theatrical Portland folk-rockers' noble sojourn into heavy narrative prog-folk was probably always in the stars. Ornately antiquarian diction was their Ziggy Stardust. Ginormous song suites based on world folklore were their deaf, dumb, and blind kid.
The Decemberists have always worn their pretension like a badge of honor, whether they were singing sea songs (2003’s Her Majesty, The Decemberists) or bringing theater geekiness to indie rock (2005’s Picaresque). But when the band jumped to Capitol in 2006 and released the mostly tepid The Crane Wife, which featured a song arc constructed around a Japanese fable, that pretension (which is typically evident in frontman Colin Meloy’s dense verbiage and tenuous story-laden album set-ups) began to take over. On The Hazards of Love, a 17-song cycle that traces the story of a girl, her shape shifting lover, and a rake, the band have finally let the pompous aspect of their psyche take center stage, relegating concerns like cohesion, good hooks, and sing-along moments (which the Decemberists used to be masters at) to bit players.
According to frontman/songwriter Colin Meloy, The Hazards Of Love was intended to be a musical, which isn't a big surprise coming from this hyper-literate, history-obsessed dude. Fortunately for theatre audiences, this dream was never realized, and Meloy's reworked Hazards into the Decemberists' fifth full-length. [rssbreak] On this fantasy concept record about a woman who hooks up with a shape-shifting animal (or something), the band tries out big, fuzzy, folksy blues riffs on tracks like The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid and The Queen's Rebuke/The Crossing, but the proggy result is unmemorable and middling.
Frontman Colin Meloy has many unique gifts as a songwriter — gifts that have all but deserted him on this regrettable attempt at a prog opera. Hazards of Love drowns in convoluted plots, blustery guest vocalists, and comically out-of-place guitar shredding. D+ Download This: Listen to ”The Rake’s Song” on the band’s MySpace See all current music reviews from EW .
The Decemberists has always been ambitious. While mostly, and without any rivals, implanted in the realm of Folk/Canterbury revival, the group has also been known to include Prog Rock into its foray. The members have already created gems exceeding ten minutes, including the eighteen-minute masterpiece “The Tain”, but with their new work, The Hazards of Love, they’ve reached a new level.
So different from the carefree pop of "Valerie Plame" yet similar in format to the Decemberists' 2006 Capitol debut, The Crane Wife, The Hazards of Love pulses an American song cycle in Brit-folk drag. That's tough territory to plumb given that the celebrated troupe tills the Pacific Northwest, but headmaster Colin Meloy's gorgeously crafted compositions remain multitextured, layering strings against synthesizer in this cycle's fable of love gone awry ("The Wanting Comes in Waves," "Isn't It a Lovely Night?"). Meloy's touchstones form one of the Decemberists' best, precise diction; moody, compelling melodies in glorious arrangements; and elegant phrasing dripping like honey off the tongue ("the prettiest whistles won't wrestle the thistles undone").