The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love

The Decemberists will release their fifth full-length album The Hazards of Love on March 24th. Led by fellow bookworm Colin Meloy, the band never fails to impress me with their literary lyrical style and intricate melodies. This grand new concept album is no exception, but it is not another collection of soft folk acoustics and merry sea chanteys. Inspired by the British folk revival of the 1960s, The Decemberists transformed themselves into the hard rock progeny of Led Zeppelin for portions of the album. The result is a work that is equally as mesmeric to the ears as it is to the imagination.

The taiga shifted strange
The beast began to change
Singing: oh, the hazards of love
Oh, the hazards of love
You’ll learn soon enough

The seventeen songs of The Hazards of Love are populated by the maiden Margaret (who is ravaged by a shape-shifting animal), her lover William, an enigmatic forest queen – played by My Brightest Diamond‘s Shara Worden – and a murderous rake.

The ominous hum of “Prelude” gives way to the deceptively delicate pluck of “The Hazards Of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Wont Wrestle the Thistles Undone)”, which quickly delves into the flowery prose of Margaret’s tragic tale.

My personal approach to music usually places sound above lyrical content. Not that what a songwriter says isn’t important, but I feel that even quoting Shakespeare can’t compensate for a weak voice or lackluster arrangements. Yet Meloy’s lyrical narratives are unquestionably the backbone of The Decemberists’ songs.

However. The brilliantly dramatic “A Bower Scene” (along with its twin “The Abduction Of Margaret”) rips that pretty little theory apart. In a similar fashion to how Xavier Rudd seared his aboriginal folk style with a dark rock reverberation in last year’s Dark Shades of Blue, The Decemberists suddenly morph into a thunderous folk-metal band invoking the spirit of Black Sabbath.

The guitars continue to crunch hard in “Wont Want For Love (Margaret In the Taiga)”, but are juxtaposed with the dulcet tones of Lavender Diamond’s Becky Stark. Stark sings as Margaret in several songs. “The Queen’s Approach” is a clangy banjo interlude before Stark and Meloy duet as Margaret and William in the gooey love song “Isn’t It A Lovely Night” (I suppose it says something unsavory about my personality that I’m more interested in the villains).

“The Wanting Comes In Waves / Repaid” is the soaring pop-rock number that reveals the connection between our hero William and the mysterious Forest Queen. The Queen is deliciously portrayed by Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, who reprises the role in the headbanger epic “The Queens Rebuke/The Crossing”. I hope Meloy and Worden collaborate again in the future, they are genius together.

“The Rake’s Song” is a rock guitar murder ballad sans ballad. Who knew the narrator of the album was such a violent cad? The music strangely ebbs as the lyrical drama builds to its climax in songs like “Margaret In Captivity”. I fear spoiling the end of this musical novel by revealing the plot progression of “The Hazards Of Love 3 (Revenge!)”. Let’s just say it’s unexpectedly creepy and exciting.

I definitely recommend buying the entire album in this case, as the songs cut off abruptly when played as individual mp3s. But the story flows together seamlessly when played as a whole. The Hazards of Love is just waiting for some Broadway producer to turn it into a rock opera.

The Decemberists – The Rake’s Song (mp3 expired) *

*mp3 posted w/ permission of EMI Music

The Decemberists Official Site

Pre-order @ Amazon (only $9.99!)

The Decemberists

7 thoughts on “The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love

  1. Great review, Vic! I’ve been kind of blasé about the new release, and it usually requires some time and effort on my part to get into Meloy’s album themes, but your analysis helps a lot.

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  3. Linda – I think what made a huge impact on my perception of the album was that I read the lyrics while I listened the first time, and imagined Colin Meloy and Shara Worden performing it on stage. Picturing the characters and action in my mind made it seem more like a musical soundtrack than a simple album.

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