Two words which can strike fear into the heart of any music fan, conjuring up images of songs with no choruses , connecting themes that are just a tad too flimsy and guitar solos that can last for two days straight.
Luckily, The Hazards of Love, the latest release from The Decemberists is not that kind of album. Instead it is a folk-rock epic that reads like a very twisted fairy tale. Although this sounds terrible on paper, in practise it works surprisingly well.
The album is best listened to full. Firstly because of the story being told in the lyrics, but also because it is essentially a one hour pice of music with titles inserted just to let us now when something else is happening. It is also worth listening to in full to appreciate the interwoven riffs sprinkled throughout the album.
Although there have always been signs of The Decemberists prog side, such the 18 minute track Tain and some of the songs on The Crane Wife, we really get to hear it on this album. While many fans hoping the band would return to their earlier folk based sound will be dissapointed, The Decemberists are still primarily a folk act, which comes through in The Hazards of Love 2(Wager All) and a little too twee Isn’t it a Lovely Night.
The Decemberists are best enjoyed with a dictionary nearby, and Colin Meloy really out does himself with the archaic language on this album. If you can’t be bothered to spend hours trying to figure out what the album is about, it tells of the story of William, a shape-shifter and Margret who fall in love. But Williams mum is an evil queen and is not too happy when she finds out about this, so she enlists the help of an evil rake who is fond of killing children to deal with the problem. If you want to know more, you’ll just have to listen to it.
At times it does feel like the lyrics are given more attention than the music, but there are some great highlights. Guest vocalists Shara Worden from My Brightest Diamond and Becky Stark from Lavender Diamond are great and do add some reprieve for those wo can’t stand Colin Meloy’s voice, which let’s face it, still sounds like Big Bird. Meloy plays a number of characters, which does get very confusing, however after a few listens this does clear up a bit.
The album suffers from the classic concept album problem of not having any really stand-alone tracks, but some are better than others. The Rakes Song is the catchiest song about infanticide there is and really is easy to forget about the dark subject matter. However, the real stand out is the gloriously melodic The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid. It has a great riff that really soars until the second movement kicks in, where we get to hear Shara Wooden do her best imitation of an evil forest queen.
The Hazards of Love is one of those albums that take a long time to sink in and discovering new things in the songs can be quite exciting if you’re into that kind of thing. However, in this world if iPod shuffles and free mp3s taking this dedication is a big thing for many people and the whole premise of the album can easily be dismissed as over the top.