I’m going to start with the facts: on January 22nd 2015 The Decemberists released an album called “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World.” It contains 14 tracks and is their first LP release since 2011. I’ve seen them twice in concert, have tickets to their Berkeley show in May and have been a diehard Decemberists fan since the 6th grade. That being said, I may be reviewing this record from a biased perspective, but the results may surprise you…
The Decemberists have always been famous for their story-based songs of love, loss, lust, and lament fueled by the brilliant mind of Colin Meloy, the Portland-dwelling hipster king. It brings to mind tracks on previous albums like “Engine Driver,” “Legionnaire’s Lament,” and the whole album, “The Hazards of Love,” an indie-folk-rock opera narrative of love and murder. All act as a perfect example of the marriage of a good music and good storytelling. And believe me, the list doesn’t stop there.
Colin is known, too, for writing songs that I can only describe as sea shanties like “Shanty for Arethusa,” and “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” that have a grog-soaked, gritty quality to them.
In fact, a lot of their work hasn’t been totally clean cut. And that’s exactly why I love them. Their music conveys so much honesty and emotion. Evoking the great raw, 90s indie-grunge sound of Pavement, Nirvana and early Death Cab for Cutie. In their LP, “The King is Dead,” you can actually hear the rain beating on the roof of the barn they recorded in.
And that brings me back to “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World.” It’s too manicured. It’s too perfect. The whole album seems to have rounded edges like newlyweds baby-proofing their house (which always sounded to me like someone is preparing for an infantile apocalypse). Granted, this may not be the band’s fault. After all, they are signed to Capital Records; a giant in the industry just trying to sell records to a pop-loving public. And in a tech-saturated era, music is so easy to come by, as a result, people won’t settle for anything less than perfect. So that problem I cannot directly attribute to Meloy and the band.
However, the band is not safe from the finger of blame’s accusatory wag. The record seems like a vehicle used to deliver a few decent songs and whole bunch of bad ones. They released the single, “Make You Better” way before the release date to build anticipation. A great song in its own right (my favorite, in fact), I’m afraid to admit that it was only shiny bait to draw us into an otherwise mediocre album. My recommended song list is “Make You Better,” “Cavalry Captain,” and “The Wrong Year.” And that list does stop there… out of 14 tracks.
Ever the diehard fan, I’m willing to entertain the possibilities that Colin was busy with his novel writing and his young son. And a majority of the band is involved in a side project, Black Prairie. So, the band may have not put in as much energy as they did in previous albums.
I still have tickets to see them in May and I’m still super stoked.
Devan is a DJ with KSSU