Meet the New Rock Opera

Metroland | April 22, 2009
For a band who made their mark mining the antiquated and odd for folk-pop gold, the Decemberists as we once knew them all but disappeared into the silt on their last album (and major label debut) The Crane Wife. That album found the group tied up in song cycles, folk tales, and 10-minute opuses that not-so-loosely resembled turn-of-the-'70s prog-rock. From Fairport Convention to Jethro Tull in four albums—what a career arc. But Colin Meloy and his band have never shied away from the opus; each of their first three full-length releases included at least one song that topped nine minutes. So why is The Hazards of Love so daunting to even longtime fans? Perhaps because, for the first time, the hallmarks of musical theater are on full display: guest vocalists, recurring musical motifs, an overarching story that "connects" the album's 55-minute run. But those are all of the things that make Hazards the most Decemberists-y of the band's releases. It's Meloy at the apex of his geekiness, which should make it more appealing, particularly to those who stuck with the group through their many experiments. What knee-jerk armchair critics have missed is the gaggle of great tunes here: Storytelling aside, the hooks on "The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid" and "The Rake's Song" are not to be ignored. Nor is the vocal performance of Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, who damn near steals the show in her role as the forest queen. (Yes, there's a forest queen.) Unchecked ambition has the capacity to produce great art. The Hazards of Love may not be worthy of such a lofty tag, but listen again: It's a great Decemberists album.


Metroland was founded in 1978 as a monthly entertainment guide; a year and a half later it went weekly, continuing to focus primarily on arts, entertainment and lifestyles. In September 1986, Metroland reinvented itself as a full-fledged alternative newsweekly, offering...
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