Review Summary: bonus tales from a band impervious to (full-length) imperfection
Exactly one decade ago, Colin Meloy somehow scrounged up enough pocket and chesterfield change to record a shoddily produced EP of early-Decemberists fame named 5 Songs
. Since this humble inception, this most-verbose band bound not by the constraints of folk music nor the english language itself have treated us to ten years of brilliant songwriting - brilliance that our newest darling EP Long Live the King
offsets, compliments and refutes all at once. Whereas previous EPs The Tain
and Always the Bridesmaid
both foreshadowed future Decemberists’ work (prog-operas and folk-pop singles, respectively), Long Live the King
is the first collection of bite-sized Meloyisms to look, for once, behind
itself. As the appropriate aftershock to last winter’s return-to-form folk bomb The King Is Dead
, this second royal visit pays due diligence to the stripped-back ‘n R.E.M.-lovin’ album that precedes it and only occasionally sounds like the blooper reel it truly is. Long Live the King
is the b-sides album only a band of Meloy quality could record: three strokes of genius paired with three misfires only Meloy’s charm and freshly grown beard could ever indemnify.
But for a while, even the sharpest of discerners could be fooled into thinking this EP isn’t really a collection of outtakes or b-sides at all. A beddable set of storytelling gems with the charm of Picaresque
and the spunk of ‘Don’t Carry It All’ open up Long Live the King
impeccably. Meloy’s voice is at its finest as he slyly sings “bold the brave, brave ocean and roll the suckers in
” and the steel guitar love-making of ‘The Hazards Of Love 4 (The Drowned)’ makes a pleasant cameo in the rootsy ‘Foregone’. And although E. Watson’s harmonies are fine as can be, no song is stronger than ‘Burying Davy’ - an eery song of morbid storytelling not heard of since The Crane Wife
’s boogey-man ‘Shankill Butchers’. And while the celebratory ‘The Rake Song’ came close in 2009, The Decemberists haven’t written such a concise, prog-free yet entirely theatrical song since Picaresque
days and when Meloy sings ”Mother wept no tears at burying Davy”
, you could almost convince yourself we’ve gone back in time. And as special of a treat as nostalgia is to long-term Decemberists fans, no treat is grander than a well-written song - ‘Burying Davy’, along with its two Long Live the King
opening co-stars, happen to be both.
But unfortunately, as soon as ‘I 4 U & U 4 Me’ starts sounding as trite as its namesake, Meloy starts slipping up. But it’s not that 90s-folk-rock aping tune nor Meloy’s poorly used falsetto in ‘Sonnet’ that kills the King
’s reign quickest: no, the sloppy, honk-n-tonk Grateful Dead cover ‘Row Jimmy’ manages to dishonour the Decemberists as much as it does its source material. Whether the click track was playing too quietly or whether the entire recording team entered an in-studio coma, nothing clicks
on ‘Row Jimmy’ and nothing succeeds either. But, to be fair, a hiccup or three never killed a man and ‘Row Jimmy’, forgettable as it is, can’t be the bronchitis to this metaphor. As a b-sides EP, Long Live the King
fairs better than most of its kind and is about on par with the band’s other non-The Tain
EP affairs. In the end, songs as strong as ‘E. Watson’ and ‘Burying Davy’ prove that Long Live the King
is a release that still can be celebrated and ultimately respected by any Decemberists fan. But let me tell you, hell would’ve frozen over were this a full-length album.