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.
Surprisingly, 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.