Under Review: The Decemberists – The King Is Dead

I’m guessing that The Decemberists’ fans weren’t the only ones hoping that Colin Meloy would make the follow-up to The Hazards of Love a little less, um, Hazards of Love-y. Personally, despite its overwrought story and often bloated production, I didn’t think that Hazards was so unbearable. Still, I would have loved it if the band had taken their sound in the direction they briefly hinted at in their Always The Bridesmaid singles series. Though it doesn’t do exactly that, The King Is Dead is a clearly conscious effort to scale back The Decemberists’ bombastic aura.

What made The Decemberists’ albums (their early ones, especially) so unique was Meloy’s unusual songwriting. Inspired by British and Celtic folk traditions, the early Decemberists definitely didn’t sound like a bunch of kids from Portland. The King Is Dead, recorded with American icons like Gillian Welch and Peter Buck, forgoes the revival of Child Ballads in favor of a much blander kind of folk-rock. Inspired by R.E.M. as much as Neil Young, this latest face of The Decemberists has cranked out a relatively short set of songs; none of which come close to even their much-criticized last album. Meloy’s lyrics sound tired, and his melodies don’t exhibit the quirky grace we’ve come to expect. Sure, the presence of Buck’s easily-recognizable Rickenbacker on “Calamity Song” is pretty, and the quasi-chantey “Rox In The Box” is the closest thing to a classic Decemberists tune, but The King Is Dead is the sound of a band shorn of its defining characteristics. The album boasts no surprises, and becomes predictable in its confusion of ‘back to basics’ with ‘same instrumentation on every song.’ Only the complimentary “January Hymn” and “June Hymn,” both sparse and intimate, approach Meloy’s familiar craft.

It’s hard to listen to The King Is Dead without noticing its shortcomings before its offerings. Last time around, Meloy’s lyrics got a little too ‘out there,’ but he still managed to turn odd phrases into memorable choruses. If this is what Meloy thinks his band used to sound like, then he’s horribly mistaken. If this is what Meloy thinks his band should sound like, then he’s again horribly mistaken. I’m all for a band mixing up their sound, as long as it doesn’t come at the cost of a respectable end product.


~ by E. on January 17, 2011.

One Response to “Under Review: The Decemberists – The King Is Dead”

  1. Is it just me, or will Peter Buck record with anybody? I’m going to pitch my next outgoing voice mail greeting to him.

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