After their rather adventurous, opinion-dividing previous outing, ‘The Hazards Of Love’, The Decemberists opt for a back to basics approach with this, their sixth album. Having strayed from their ‘charming sea shanties by an indie band’ template of late, it’s a delight to luxuriate in the rich tones of Colin Meloy‘s voice in full flight on these relatively simple songs.
Starting an album with a shrill blast of harmonica, rarely an instrument which provokes an “oh goodie” from the listener, is a bold statement of intent on this country-tinged collection. ‘Don’t Carry It All’ turns out to be a mid-paced stomper with a charming sing-song quality despite this particular adornment, whilst ‘This Is Why We Fight’ already sounds like one of those insistent tracks you’ll be putting on your end of year compilation many months from now.
‘Calamity Song’, Meloy aside, comes across as if plucked directly from R.E.M.‘s ‘Reckoning‘. Indeed, there are numerous other times during this record when it’s hard not to be reminded of Athens, Georgia’s most famous exports in full jangle mode. Think somewhere between ‘Green’ and ‘Out Of Time’ and you’ll not be far wrong. But who’s that in the corner? Why, it’s Peter Buck, who plays on three tracks and makes the audible link a little easier to understand.
‘The King Is Dead’ is a concerted effort to pursue simplicity; Meloy explains that “over the last eleven years or so, since I moved to Portland, I feel like I’ve been mining mostly English traditions for influence. I guess I’ve come back to a lot of the more American music that got me going in the first place – R.E.M. and Camper Van Beethoven and all these bands that borrowed from more American traditions like Neil Young and The Byrds.” The distinctive Decemberists sound is still very much in evidence and the fact that the reference points being used are all a fine listen in their own right means that ‘The King Is Dead’ is no lifeless retread of old ideas.
While not scaling the heights of ‘Picaresque’ or ‘The Crane Wife’, this measured offering is a finessed folk-rock record likely to bring a little taste of long summer evening drives to the glacial January gloom.