DECEMBERISTS – The Hazards Of Love (Rough Trade)

Although The Decemberists have released seven albums in as many years, this is the first that I have heard of them, but what an introduction to the band it turned out to be. The Portland five-piece, led by songwriter Colin Meloy, have produced what used to called a concept album, but to avoid the stigma attached to that term is now called a song cycle. The idea started when Meloy found a copy of British folkie Anne Briggs’ 1966 EP ‘Hazards Of Love’, and noticing that there was no song of that title on there decided to write one himself. Using that as a starting point he then constructed a story around it, and writing of the songs commenced. The resulting album is a glorious mixture of styles, from the folky ‘The Hazards Of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle The Thistles Undone)’ to the hard rock of ‘The Abduction Of Margaret’ and ‘The Queen’s Rebuke’, while the story itself seems pretty convoluted, and is best ignored while you listen to the music. ‘Won’t Want For Love’ has a lovely vocal from Becky Stark, and indeed any track on which she sings is a highlight. The main theme re-appears on ‘Wager All’, which is followed by a Stark/Meloy duet on the lilting ballad ‘Isn’t It A Lovely Night!’. ‘The Wanting Comes In Waves’ pulls out all the stops for a great prog rocker, alternating riffing guitars with acoustic passages. ‘The Rake’s Song’ is beefed up by some thunderous drumming, and while its lyrics about infanticide might be a bit risqué you can’t deny the power of the music. ‘The aforementioned ‘The Queen’s Rebuke’ is a great heavy rocker, with the organ and guitar interplay at the end giving it a hint of classic Deep Purple. ‘Annan Water’ is a folky rocker, and ‘The Hazards Of Love 4 (The Drowned)’ closes the album with a haunting ballad. For some reason this album has been roundly panned by critics and fans alike, and while I can perhaps understand the fans’ view that Meloy has sold out by signing to a major label and writing what amounts to a rock opera, I do feel that this drubbing is somewhat unjust. Coming to it as I have free from any prejudices I have found it to be an excellent first taste of the band, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to hear music that is a bit more challenging than mindless chart fodder or over-rated indie bands.
Hazards Of Love 1
The Queen's Rebuke