2009’s The Hazards of Love was considered a misstep for The Decemberists, but in my mind it was a beautiful mistake. Many derided it for being an overblown mess of Neil Young-esque guitar and long-winded storytelling; I for one loved the album for those very reasons. WithThe King Is Dead, the band has remarkably progressed their songwriting while not abandoning their roots.
Colin Meloy has greatly matured as a lyricist and storyteller. Where he used to take what at times seemed like forever to tell a story, his thoughts are now condensed into short succinct verses; and it works to the album’s benefit. These are story songs in the traditional Decemberists form. They tell tales of beleaguered and flawed characters, but the lyrics are more contemporary and straightforward then ever before.
Enough about the lyrics though. Where this album truly shines is with the music. R.E.M.’s Peter Buck guests on album opener “Don’t Carry It All,” “Calamity Song” and lead single “Down By The Water,” and it’s not surprising that these are the standout tracks on The King Is Dead. Buck still hasn’t lost his touch for a great hook, proving so with “Calamity Song” in particular, sounding like something off of Murmur. The Decembrists still sound like a band of pirates, but now it seems that they’re pirates who’ve honed their craft.
The Decemberists are tight as ever on this album, and it might be their best effort to date. It’s up there with their first two albums Castaways and Cutouts and Her Majesty The Decemberists. If you were scared off by The Hazards of Love, give them another chance with this release. It’s a musical experience you’ll be happy to have been a part of.