After four albums of sing-along folk melodies paired along morbid minor tones, and verses sprinkled with lyrics dug up from some old coat pocket in a Parisian thrift store, the newest album from The Decemberists, ‘The Hazards Of Love,’ is not necessarily out of character.’ Rather, it is filled with an array of characters ‘-‘- a shape-shifting beast, two blighted lovers, a forest queen and a cold-blooded rake ‘-‘- paired together in the group’s first ever attempt (emphasis on attempt) at a musical rock opera.
The album as a whole threads 17 tracks with recurring musical themes including heavy guitar riffs and lighter serenading strings. The group’s persona is held down by the always poignant vocals of lead singer Colin Meloy, yet new, airy voices ‘-‘- those of Becky Stark (Lavender Diamond) and Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond), both reminiscent of Lisa Hannigan ‘-‘- take more than they give to the songs. It’s folky and rocky, with raspy heavy metal guitar riffs, producing a rougher sound than we’ve heard from them before ‘-‘- think ‘Into The Woods’ meets accordions meets fairies meets Jason Segal’s Dracula musical from ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall.’
‘The Hazards of Love,’ the title track, is truly hazardous in the fact that it’s just all over the place.’ It just doesn’t work. The track stands out only because it is more reminiscent of their older tunes, not trying too hard to be something it’s not.’ Here we are faced with the simplicity of the guitar/harmony combination and soothing, dreamy lyrics that has earned The Decemberists a following of fans who know good music, both young and old alike.
Even the heavier, rustier guitar tones in ‘A Bower Scene’ and the sweeping country riffs at the beginning of’ ‘Won’t Want For Love’ take a step in a different, yet intriguing direction.’ But once the female vocals kick in, and lyrics like ‘mother, I can hear your foot fall’ from ‘The Wanting Comes in Waves’ emerge, the album takes on a tacky, overdramatic tone and suddenly I feel like a squirmy toddler forced by her mom to sit through a painful musical ‘-‘- only this time, there isn’t even any fancy scenery to keep me occupied.
‘The Hazards Of Love’ In Stores 3/24/09