The Decemberists – The King is Dead

The biggest musical disappointment for me in quite some time.

My first experience with the music of indie rock band The Decemberists was a few years back, when I was lent a copy of ‘The Crane Wife’. Needless to say, I was highly impressed by the tight, but really emotional and inspired throughout. The 2009 follow-up album ‘The Hazards of Love’ only impressed me further; a full-fledged masterpiece of progressive folk rock. The band had really found a fan in me; much of what I had heard from this band to date had been interesting and well worth the experience. With a string of great albums leading up to 2011, it is understandable by this album is such a let-down. Instead of the heartfelt and tastefully dynamic songwriting I had begun to take for granted from this band, ‘The King Is Dead’ turns out to be a rather dull and uninspired collection of lackluster alternative country music.

While it was clear from before listening to this album that the music was going to be a return to basic songwriting for Colin Meloy, I was still expecting the same memorable melodies and class from other Decemberist works. Instead, the songs here feel rushed, boring and unimaginative in just about every way possible. The songs have few, if any memorable hooks to them, and the performance of the music is even less impressive; a fairly bland take on American country music; fiddles, harmonicas and all.

While I am not necessarily opposed to country music, the removal of progressive and rock elements for old-timey country flair does nothing for me. However, a few songs on the album do stand out, although none can be considered truly great. My favourite tracks here is the ‘Calamity Song’ (which employs some clever wordplay from Meloy; something he has always been good for) and the closing ballad ‘Dear Avery’, which averts a fair deal of the tacky country elements the band uses throughout most of ‘The King Is Dead’. This handful of enjoyable songs is not enough to save the album however, and what is left is a fairly disappointing experience that leaves me wondering if the band is still worth following.

Tracklist:

1. Don’t Carry It All
2. Calamity Song
3. Rise To Me
4. Rox In The Box
5. January Hymn
6. Down By The Water
7. All Arise!
8. June Hymn
9. This Is Why We Fight
10. Dear Avery

Line-up:

* Colin Meloy – vocals, guitar
* Chris Funk – guitar
* Jenny Conlee – piano
* Nate Query – bass
* John Moen – drums, banjo

Links:

The Decemberists official website

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