THE DECEMBERISTS – The King Is Dead (Rough Trade)

I was so blown away with The Decemberists last album ‘The Hazards Of Love’, that I grabbed this one as soon as it came out. Perhaps I should have been a bit more cautious, as the band have undergone a complete change of style, and have delivered an album of Americana and country-tinged tunes which I was not prepared for. That’s not to say that they are not pleasant enough, but I was gearing myself up for some more great progressive folk-rock, and the country-rock stylings of ‘Don’t Carry It All’ and ‘Calamity Song’ took a bit of getting used to. There is certainly a touch of REM to the latter (Peter Buck actually makes a guest appearance on the album), with the band putting their all into the delivery, and it only takes a couple of listens to be singing along to it. ‘Rise To Me’ seems to want to emphasise this new style by grafting on some slide guitar and a harmonica solo and producing a pure country and western song. ‘Rox In The Box’ has some great fiddle work and with its catchy chorus and Irish jig feel I suddenly realise that I am actually quite enjoying this album. ‘January Hymn’ is pretty much just Colin Meloy and his acoustic guitar, although the band do add subtle touches throughout the song, and it ends up a most touching piece. ‘Down By The Water’ makes more use of the harmonica, and this time the REM influence is tempered by a nod to Neil Young, while ‘All Rise!’ brings back the fiddle and adds in a dose of banjo to the mix. ‘June Hymn’ is a companion piece to the afore-mentioned ‘January Hymn’, and once again is a Meloy solo acoustic piece. Both of these pieces are actually the closest that the band get to the sort of music they used to make, and by careful placement in this album they provide a transition from the old style to the new. ‘This Is Why We Fight’ is the most out and out rock song on here, and even the banjo and harmonica can’t relegate it to just a country pastiche. Meloy saves the heartbreak ballad for the end, with a love song to ‘Dear Avery’, and like on the previous track the slide guitar adds to the downbeat feel of the song without you ever thinking that it is predominantly a country and western instrument. If anyone tried ‘The Hazards Of Love’ after my rave review, and loved it as much as I did, then just be warned that this release could throw you at first, but I have found that repeated listens have drawn out the quality of these songs, and so this is definitely an album that needs to be given a chance to grow on you.

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