The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love (2009)

Fasten your seatbelts. Or should I say pull up your knickers? Or fasten ye daggas! It’s the Decemberists with an organ prelude. What tale shall unfold. Where will they have gone? I’ve been a listener for years now. What’s the next evolution?

According to the story, Hazards is a concept album. A love story that the many tracks narrate in advanced early 19th century vocabulary. The diction separates the band from others. It is thick and full of imagery, like a painting. People should do LSD and listen to the album like they did in the 60s tripping out for hours listening to an audio odyssey. But that was before we knew it burned holes in your brain so on second thought, turn the lights low, huff a whip-it and enjoy. No, wait…

The lyrics are very Decemberists but as with the last album, they’ve moved into a more rock friendly sound evidenced by hard drums, hard riffs, and hard keyboarding.

The Hazards of Love 2 is a good song. Lead singer hits full range which isn’t the Grand Canyon but it’s outside of the vocal monotony of most indie bands.

Isn’t It a Lovely Night could be out of a stage musical, Broadway if the writer were famous enough, not without a reputation. It’s cute; probably have a dance number.

The Crane Wife is a superior album but this one has its moments which will grow greater as I hear the album more but that’s because the language is rich and you can find new things. The music is really good but they are taking less risks than they used to and I miss their quirkyness. I saw them in concert with the LA philharmonic and and their music filled the Hollywood Bowl. It was a dope show because the sound was so unique and they played it so earnestly.

I have found I don’t care about the story. I’ve listened to it through twice and I have no idea what’s going on. Some riffs repeat, probably meaningfully. Still, even with the repetition and my indifference to the narrative, there are some memorable, heartfelt moments as if the lead singer wrote with a quill about memories recently had. Sadly, their is a children’s choir near the end of the album. I was never a fan of the children’s choir though humorously ironic that they are singing about “the hazards of love.”

Heartache and loss run throughout the album but the music adds a rich, wholesome hopefulness that the impossibility of perfect love can one day be achieved. He explains that we deal with loss because “the wanting comes in waves”; following intense longing come periods of exhausted respite.

The Decemberists stand on their storytelling like ancient bards. They came centuries late but have found a niche that longs for an honest attempt to explain love. Not emo by any stretch, decidedly indie, but deeper still, and now with the second major label album a little more mainstream. Hopefully they won’t look at their diction as a barrier to gaining new fans but as a barometer measuring the literacy of new and old fans alike. I’m up for the challenge. Are ye?

Album vocabulary: quell, swoon, swelling, to garland, tremor, clovered, withers, clamped, fetters, villain, canopy, trunks, entombed,


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