The Decemberists- Hazards of Love (Capitol)
Release: March 24th 2009
It’s tough to consider The Decemberists forthcoming Hazards of Love with only a few spins under my belt. Where as 2006’s The Crane Wife was an important transitional point for the band, flirting with a unifying theme amongst a variety of abstract backdrops, Hazards of Love is the most complete realization of Colin Meloy’s literary tendencies to date. In a listening culture based around downloads this is the kind of record that dares you to fuck with random leaked tracks by boldly embracing the storytelling possibilities of a complete concept album. No matter how you feel about this band, you have to give them credit for such naked ambition: this is a ballsy record to release, made so much more sincere now that the band has moved to a major label. It is an album that demands your focus, at times making it both a challenging and exhilarating listen. A complete story unfolds over a contiguous hour, with recurring characters and themes (both musically and lyrically) moving so swiftly and in such complicated abstractions that the album can be hard to follow. I don’t think that Meloy and the band are oblivious to this though, using the tension in this challenging relationship to further inform the narrative experience and demand repeated listening. It’s a clever gamble and one that pays off if you roll with it.
Out of respect for the record, I feel like I can’t divulge the details of the individual tracks or the overall storyline. I don’t want to tell you about how it sounds either. The complicated style collage that the band creates is as important to the narrative as the lyrics are, and it should be experienced on the album, straight through and in context. I will say a few things though. The record is presented in two sections, split almost exactly in half by a small interlude. A handful of guests show up voicing different characters, with a completely compelling appearance by My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden on “The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid,” the final track in the first act. And, in general, this is the most comfortable that we have heard The Decemberists, with guitarist Chris Funk ambitiously flexing his instrument and Meloy’s voice the warmest and most inviting it has been to date.
Sure, this album isn’t going to be for everyone; it can be overwhelming and a little too particular at times. But we aren’t getting too many releases these days heavily influenced by Tommy, The Wall or The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, so we better indulge this special treat to its fullest. If you commit yourself, this is the kind of record that makes you smile every time the title is invoked lyrically, constantly reminding you of its cinematic, theatrical and literary ambitions. So, carve out an hour, turn on the psychedelic iTunes Visualizer and take it all in at once; personally, I just can’t wait to get my hands on the liner notes and lyrics sheet.