The Decemberists present the ‘complete’ album with ‘The Hazards of Love’
The Decemberists have given me hope that the concept of an album is still alive. On their latest, The Hazards of Love, Colin Meloy and crew tell the dark story of two lovers, William and Margaret, and the two antagonists that attempt to foil their plans, the Queen and the Rake. The album’s seventeen songs are perfectly crafted and woven together with common themes and solid transitions. In an interview with Paste Magazine, Meloy commented that Hazards was initially set to be a musical but then reinvented as a rock opera.
An instrumental prelude slowly starts off the album and blends into part one of the title track, there are four altogether. “The Hazards of Love 1” resembles their earlier works complete with acoustic picking, rich upright bass and well-read Meloy’s lyrics circling about “lithesome maidens.” This formula is immediately shed on the following song, “A Bower Scene.” Here, distorted electric guitars thump power chords reminiscent of “Ziggy Stardust” or The Wall. What surprises me the most about this new sound is how well it actually works for the Decemberists, the changes from folk to rock are pulled off effortlessly here.
After an instrumental interlude about halfway through the album, “The Rake’s Song” kicks in. An eerie song featuring thick drums about a widower murdering his children, he pays for that at the end of the album. Following this is “The Abduction of Margaret” – here, the band revisits the sounds of “A Bower Scene” and pushes them to new boundaries.
Shara Morden of My Brightest Diamond is brought in to do the vocals of the Queen. Here, her voice is emotionally empowering and downright evil especially over prog-rock guitars on “The Queens Rebuke” and “The Wanting Comes in Waves.” Along with Morden, the Decemberists brought in My Morning Jacket’s front man, Jim James, to help out with background vocals on various tracks.
The last track, “The Hazards of Love 4,” brings the album to its tragic close as William and Margaret are swept off and drowned by the river. The song is a gentle finale with a wonderful steel guitar solo sandwiched in between the last duet by the two lovers.
There are drawbacks some might see to this take-it-or-leave it concept album. Each song flows right into the next leaving no real breaks – great for an album but causes it to lack the singles of its predecessor, The Crane Wife. But for what it’s worth, they aren’t missed here. As a whole, The Hazards of Love is a conceptual masterpiece from start to finish that Decemberists fans will cherish on their first listen.
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