Review Summary: It becomes pretty apparent that this isn't The Decemberists we know and love. No, this is much better.The Decemberists
are an odd band, to say the least. In the indie world, they have achieved a lofty level of recognition, mostly due to their tendencies towards unique and eccentric songs. Instantly recognizable, their subdued and passive instrumentation develops behind intricate tales of sea adventures and lost love. Personally, I’ve always been more inclined to use their previous releases Picaresque
and The Crane Wife
as background music. Not boring and not very engaging, I’ve always considered The Decemberists to fit perfectly as what I call “secondary music”- background music for another task that’s a little more absorbing. Then comes The Hazards of Love
. The Decemberists' ambition got the best of them, and they undertook a concept album; while at the same time perfecting their lovable, disharmonious, awkward trademark sound.
The Hazards of Love
was inspired by an English folk artist, Anne Briggs, and her EP of the same name. A full 17 tracks outline the intricacies of a story chock-full with love, loss, royalty, and downfall, in an almost Shakespearean drama. The concept is complete with characters, William (Colin Meloy, Decemberists), Margaret (Becky Stark, Lavender Diamond), and many more.
The plot is full of twists and quirks. Colin/William spends the first four tracks delineating the nature of his dilemma. While “The Hazards of Love I” can get repetitive and tiresome, it’s necessary for setting up the plot. “A Bower Scene” follows, complete with power chords. Two tracks in, it becomes apparent that this isn’t your regular Decemberists album. No, this is much better. Though, this is only the beginning. William’s love, Margaret, is introduced to the listener in this passionate, powerful song. With “Won’t Want For Love (Margaret In The Taiga),” we get a glimpse of one of The Decemberists best new innovations- the addition of a female vocalist. Stark and Meloy’s back-and-forth vocals work perfectly to improve and expand on the mood of the song. The Hazards of Love
flows very well through the next few tracks.
Now, we arrive at The Hazards of Love
main attractions, “The Rake Song” and “The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid,” separated by the Interlude. While this album has its share of highlights, they are eclipsed by this pair of gems. “The Wanting…” starts out like The Decemberists we know and love, then one of my favorite guitar riffs I’ve heard this year comes seemingly out of nowhere. Over this, Shara Worden, of My Brightest Diamond
, passionately cries out “Consider it your debt repaid.” Because it’s half as long as it’s 6:27 long predecessor, “The Rake Song” is more single material. Raucous and loud (by The Decemberists standards, at least), this song has major replay value.
The major attractiveness of The Hazards of Love
is revealed in the second half of the CD. While not all the songs are as meticulously crafted as “The Wanting…” or as explosive as “The Rake Song,” each song has its own personality, its own identity. This is most likely due to the storytelling and the album concept. Though, it’s also in the concept that lays the album’s greatest weakness. I get the sense that some songs, such as “Margaret in Captivity” and “The Hazards of Love III” are in place simply for the storyline. The intricate story becomes a chore at times, and the songs a necessary evil.
That being said, the fairytale feels complete by the closing note on “The Hazards of Love IV.” William and Margaret have each other, and drown romantically in the arms of their lover. Though not quite as dramatic, I’m left with a similar sense of contentment. The Decemberists have reached their full potential with this eccentric, elaborate, and passionate “folk opera.” Like drowning on a sinking ship alongside your true love and not being able to ask for anything more, The Hazards of Love
leaves you feeling fulfilled and satisfied.
The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid
The Rake's Song
The Wanting Comes In Waves/Reprise