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Music Review: The Decemberists – The Hazards Of Love

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You can tell within the first few minutes of listening to The Hazards Of Love that there was an illustrious plan intended for the record. It turns out that plan was a musical, which seems less of a failure when you realize it was executed by indie folk rock band The Decemberists.

Even in their most grandiose moments ("A Bower Scene"), the Colin Meloy-led (vocals, guitar) five-piece (Chris Funk – guitar; Jenny Conlee – keyboard, organ; Nate Query – bass; John Moen – drums) never reached the epic heights of tamer rock opera affairs from Trans-Siberian Orchestra and is soon rotating between reintroductions to the folk opuses that we all grew to love in The Crane Wife (2006) and medieval quests.

That's not to say that the Portland, Oregon quintet expected their fifth full-length album to being anything less than Decemberists-like. The folk opera aspect of Hazards allows the band to simply elongate their storytelling in a less gimmicky way while bringing the less-sexy album-form back.

The DecemberistsSurprisingly, Hazards feels brisk and short with its 59-minute run time while telling the tales of two lovers, Margaret (voiced by Lavender Diamond’s Becky Stark) and William, and the usual cast of eccentric characters, including the dreaded queen (voiced by My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden).

Love, or to put it bluntly sex, is a predominant theme, subtle in "Won't Want For Love (Margaret In The Taiga)," less subtle in "The Hazards Of Love 2 (Wager All),"and even less subtle in "Isn't It A Lovely Night?" It isn't surprising nor does it feel saturating since the story arcs flow well through radiant songs like William's confrontation with the queen in "The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid" and the metal-heavy "The Queen's Rebuke/The Crossing."

My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, Robyn Hitchcock, and The Spinanes’ Rebecca Gates also provide contributing vocals for the album. The most intriguing facet of The Hazards Of Love is that it still has The Decemberists' sound even with the extended doses of metal and prog rock. That might turn off some, which shouldn't because it still sounds great.

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About Tan The Man

Tan The Man writes mostly about film and music. He has previously covered events like Noise Pop, Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, South By Southwest, TBD Festival, Wizard World Comic Con and WonderCon.
  • i really love this record. especially cool and surprising when they slip into decidedly un-Decemberist styles, like hard rock and country.

  • kevin cramsey

    I think this is a real misstep for the Decemberists, of whom I had been growing increasingly fond over time. Up until now, I’ve been on board with Colin Meloy’s occasional self-indulgence, but not here. Like a lot of of listeners, I’m more interested in good songs as opposed to trying to decipher some muddled story line. Admittedly, I’ve never been a fan of concept albums. They are usually pretentious and repetitive. This project hasn’t given me cause to reconsider that position.

  • mm

    i love this album–i have an open mind when i listen to an album, and i found the hazards of love to be musically engaging, creatively stimulating, and moving. i still continue to believe that the album is great, even despite the several somewhat-negative reviews i’ve seen out there.