Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love

Artist: The Decemberists
Album: The Hazards of Love
Date Released: March 24, 2009
Genre: indie-rock, indie-pop
Rating: 7.7

Review: The Hazards of Love is The Decemberists fifth studio release, an ambitious concept album that centers around the heroine Margaret, her impregnation by a shape-shifting animal, the Forest Queen, and various other characters. With The Hazards of Love, the Decemberists have crafted an album that is best listened to from start to finish -- one that offers one of the most satisfying musical experiences to come along this year. This is not the kind of album where the tracks can get thrown into a random playlist; this is a case where the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Despite The Decemberists' seemingly strange concept and stage-show type approach, the otherworldly theme does not overpower or detract from the music. Instead, the lyrical content enriches both the music and the listening experience. The band is able to evoke a genuine emotional reaction from the listener and maintain interest despite some changes that seem to come right out of left field (as witnessed by the transition from harpsichord into chugga-chugga van rock on "The Queens Rebuke/The Crossing").

Indeed, The Hazards of Love feature songs that flow together with ease and lyrics that are begging to be sung. The storyline is not obscured beneath vagaries and metaphors; the lyrics still hold that trademark charm of previous Decemberists records. For example, from "The Hazards of Love 1":
She being full of charity a credit to her sex
Sought to right the fawn's hind legs
When here her plans were vexed
The Taiga shifted strange
The beast began to change
And like any good stage musical, The Hazards of Love even features a musical interlude that fits right in. But what I could have really done without is the eye-rolling children's choir.

The Hazards of Love ends in a rousing organ-drenched climax on "The Queen's Rebuke," a track that slowly brings the listener back down to the gorgeous “The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)”.

It's not easy creating a concept album, particularly one that deliberately tries to sound like a stage show. But The Hazards of Love succeeds where many bands fail. The Decemberists have created a concept album in which the lyrics act in tandem with the music to produce a dramatic story that is just as interesting and strong as the songs themselves. This album may lack the catchy choruses of The Crane Wife, but it accomplishes so much more.

Standout tracks: "The Queens Rebuke/The Crossing", "Isn't It A Lovely Night", "Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)", and "The Rake's Song."

Reviewed by Ryan Konop.

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