The Decemberists: 'The King is Dead' Review

The King is Dead, the latest album from The Decemberists, has been receiving rave reviews, even though it is a venture from the band’s normal storytelling style. The Decemberists have been playing since 2000. With the release of their first EP, 5 Songs, they established themselves as a group that was heading places. The band continued to make albums and tour, progressing more and more in their narrative album style and indie folk musical structure. This evolution culminated with 2009′s The Hazards of Love, an epic odyssey regaling the story of a woman named Margaret, her shape shifting lover William, his forest queen mother, and the cold-blooded rake.

The King is Dead branched out from the band’s normal parameters and broke into a more mainstream style. The songs are catchier, not so much about telling a story as writing a good song with a single story per song, instead of being part of an album-wide narrative. They included R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck on three of the tracks, and from this it is easy to see the different directions this CD will go. The album opens with “Don’t Carry It All”, a folk melody regarding social justice. Songs like “Calamity Song”, “All Arise!”, and “This Is Why We Fight” all move forward with an energy and conviction apparent in singer Colin Meloy’s lyrics and tone throughout. The biggest fault is with the production value. Some songs are not proportioned well, and some flourishes, such as harmonicas and banjos, can come off as too much, taking away from the message of the song.

Overall, the album represents itself well. It is a valient attempt of an established band to wade into some very unfamiliar waters, and they should be able to move forward into a broader fan base as people exposed to The Decemberists for the first time will be more open to the ideas brought forth on this CD than in previous work. It also gives those who shunned their earlier albums to take a look back and enjoy those songs and stories too.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

The King is Dead on [itunes link="http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/down-by-the-water/id407622045?uo=4" title="The_Decemberists-The_King_Is_Dead_(Album)" text="iTunes"]

Get “This is Why We Fight”, a track from The King is Dead, for free on the Gravy and Biscuits January 2011 Mix Tape here.

Written by Josh McRae

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