A year and a half ago I saw one of the best Rock concerts I’d seen in my 24 years on this planet… The Decemberists, celebrating the release of their 5th studio album, The Hazards of Love, graced the stage of Radio City Music Hall and played the epic Folk/Prog-Rock album in it’s entirety, followed by another full set of old favorites. Seeing as how I loved Hazards so much (possibly my favorite Decemberists album), this, to me, was a perfect show for me to finally see one of my favorite bands. So naturally my expectations were quite high for their 6th release, The King is Dead.
For those familiar with The Decemberists catalog, King is a foray into a style that you haven’t heard them touch upon in their near 10 years on the scene, country. The opening track, Don’t Carry It All, opens with a steady, romping rhythm and Harmonica riff circa Tom Petty and Neil Young. Throughout the rest of the album, the band grabs from a few different stylistic influences. Tracks such as Calamity Song, Down By The Water and This Is Why We fight feel as though they are channeling early 90’s REM. This isn’t surprising since REM guitarist Peter Buck cameos on a few of these songs. Tracks like Rise To Me and All Arise! conjure up visions of The Rolling Stones circa Let It Bleed and January Hymn, June Hymn and the final track, Dear Avery have a hint of acoustic Bob Dylan in them.
In the end, what is most prevalent in all of these songs is Colin Meloy’s songwriting. Meloy, even when taking influence from elsewhere, always has his own unique way with words. In Calamity Song he sings, “Hetty Green, Queen of supply-side bonhomie bone-drab, Know what I mean?” No Colin, nobody really does ever know what you mean. His melodies, as well, always set his sound apart from other of our generations song writers. But this album, to me, feels a little disconnected… almost like it’s Meloy with a backing band rather than a Decemberists album. That doesn’t change the fact that I enjoy a great deal of the songs. But, to me, the best songs on this album, are the lesser songs on every other Decemberists album. In the interest of keeping this review short, I’ll stop there and let you listen and make your own judgment…
The show and the Beacon, however, left me a bit disappointed. They played a great deal of the new album, naturally, and some great oldies as well… but it wasn’t really the set list that left me wanting more, it was their lack luster performance. They never quite seemed like they felt comfortable, or maybe they were too comfortable… either way, they lacked the energy they had at the Hazards show, as well as the showmanship. They made a few attempts at little skits that just came across as awkwardly half assed and one attempt at a “duel” between Colin on acoustic guitar and their guest fiddle player which was underwhelming. The highlight of the performance was when Hazards own evil Queen, Shara Worden, of My Brightest Diamond made a surprise visit to brilliantly perform her number The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid from Hazards, which she nailed (duh.). Unfortunately for the rest of The Decemberists, she was the most exciting part of the show. Others who I was with and those who saw another night may feel differently, but all in all, for me, it was a slight disappointment…
The King is Dead: 6.7/10
Show at The Beacon: 5.3/10
P.S. Sorry to be using the Pitchfork rating system but it seems to me to be the most mathematically accurate. Hopefully I can come up with a more fun idea by the next review… SUGGESTIONS ARE WELCOME!!