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Hazards of Buying this album...
Hazards of Love - Decemberists
Member Name: obscuredbykep
Hazards of Love - Decemberists
Advantages: The Odd Redeeming track, which saves it from being a 1 star album
Disadvantages: Most tracks
A few years ago, my then girlfriend, introduced me to a band named the Decemberists, and their then current album, "Picaresque". Infused with a swanky sea-shanty feel, I fell in love with the band, and the album became quite a favourite of mine for some time. They followed it up with "The Crane Wife", in 2006, which had a similar feel to it, and was crammed with another host of awesome songs, which I was able to see live, when they came to the Junction in Cambridge.
I didn't realise that they had a new album out. It wasn't until reading various reviews on the NME website, that I noticed that in March, they had released "Hazards of Love", their fifth studio album. I quickly hunted it out, and here I am, with it neatly set in my iPod for listening to the first time.
The Band and Hazards of Love
The Decemberists come from Portland, Oregon and formed in 2000 and the band took their name from the 1825 Decembrist Revolt. Fronted by Colin Melory, along with Chris Funk (what a name!), Jenny Conlee, Nate Query and John Meoen. The band feature a strange combination of instruments, aside from the regular guitars, drums and keyboards. Throw in a Hammond organ, accordion, melodica and even a double bass which all add greatly to their strange sounds, especially in their two former albums.
'The Hazards of Love' was released on 24th March this year, and is a concept album based around the story of a woman named Margaret, who falls in love with a shape shifter, and forest dweller. A jealous forest queen and many other recurring characters then bring in conflict to the story. In that way, it is similar to 'The Crane Wife', which also told a story.
Running at nearly three minutes, we have this moody little instrumental. It starts off with just a bassy line, which doesn't sound of anything, gaining gradually in volume. It sounds a little like an aeroplane in the sky actually... then it comes in with organ sounds. Really gothic sounding, slightly 1500's church like. It then ranges, differentiating between something really moody, and slight optimism, before some strings come in and the track gently moulds into...
The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won't Wrestle the Thistles Undone)
Acoustic guitars gently plucked as the chords from the prelude fade out. This jangly sound continues throughout, and Melory's rather unique sounding voice comes in. It is rather simple musically, just the guitar, and a faint hint of keyboards in parts, nothing special. But Melory's voice can carry it, and still create something so different from other generic sounds of today. Towards the middle, there is some slight change, as the drums kick in, and it sounds much more like an actual song. It really isn't anything to write home about, especially when compared to how awesome some of the songs from the two preceding albums were.
A Bower Scene
Again, the song rapidly changes into the next. A deep thudding bass line, with the drums gently behind, and a sprinkling of guitar dusted softly over it, creates something which does indeed sound interesting. Then the vocals edge in for a couple of lines, then alternating between the bassy thing and the lyrics. A change then with some overdriven guitar for a couple of chords, which then appears to disappear for a while. It returns a minute or so later, and that sounds pretty cool, and just ends the song. At just over 2 minutes long, it isn't your average length piece, and it isn't that good either. It has some auditory pleasing bits, but just sounds like a jumble of oddments thrown together repeating in some sequence. Not what I expect from the Decemberists...
Won't Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga)
Again using heavy bass line, with a stronger drum beat this time, and the guitar sounding better formed, the opening lyrics are sang by Becky Stark, the guest vocalist they brought in to sing as Margaret. It is a nice change from Melory's voice, and is what I associate with the Decemberists, guest female vocals. Her voice is soft and really pretty sounding, the music underneath it, comprises of the best parts of the preceding songs, the jangly acoustic from one track, the overdrive bit, the drums, the bass line, the highlights of the weaker tracks, mixed, is excellent. This is what I had been expecting in the album, but it still isn't really as good as the tracks on 'Picaresque' or 'The Crane Wife'.
The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager all)
Starting with the acoustic guitar gently lulling out some simple chords, and a deep, almost tribal drum beat in the background. There is then some horrible poppy sounding effects on top, like a sprinkling sound, which I suppose is to suggest some form of magic, but I don't like it. It follows on along these same lines, the acoustic disappearing in the chorus, replaced by the electric, slightly overdriven guitar. Then there is a little, breakdown section which doesn't add anything to the song at all. Back to the verses, and you can now hear some of the organ or whatever from the prelude gently sitting in the background. Shame it isn't more dominant. I can't hide the fact, that yet again, I am disappointed by this song. It just isn't special at all.
The Queens Approach
Only 29 seconds long, this is a nice interlude. Has an Arabic feeling guitar or banjo or something played, and just folds gradually into..
Isn't it a Lovely Night
Oooh! I can hear an accordion! Yes!!! Finally, something sounding much more like the Decemberists that I know and love. Sang again by the female. It has soft played guitar, entwined with the accordion giving a sea feel. It is what I loved about the other albums. The music is really gentle, and her voice melts over it, they go together perfectly. Later in the song, is an instrumental section, where the accordion leads using the tune to which Stark was singing, accompanied by another accordion in the background. It is great, relaxing, and very Decemberist!
The Wanting comes in Waves / Repaid
A high pitched guitar now, (well stringing instrument). It opens with a nice series of notes then a harsh sounding chord. Repeating slowly, as Melory's voice enters, and the combination is awesome. His unique voice suits this stranger sound music perfectly. The drums enter, and some backing "ooohs", and the songs tempo rises and rises. It really has a surreal sound to it, which, close your eyes and you can imagine the situation he sings of.
It changes two minutes in, the strange instrument has gone, and now we have the normal drums, bass and guitar trio going on. But the main riff the guitar plays is reminiscent of that which was played by the strange guitar thing. This change also saw a change in the vocals, with a female singer now in (different to previous tracks though). She has a deeper air to her voice, and it is much stronger, more soulful.
Another two minutes pass, and we return to the weird guitar thingy and the music from the first section, and it is, yet again great. This song, is a nice combination of more normal music and the Decemberists, and it is definitely enjoyable. It redeems the albums previously plain tracks, and gives me hope for the nine songs which are still to come.
Well, simple title I suppose. A minute and a half of music here. Simply starting as some notes on the guitar played over and over before increasing the intricacy slightly by adding another guitar on top, and, I think, a gently hint of that weird guitar from before..
It has a strange feel to it, it physically relaxes you, well me anyway, and I think they should have perhaps worked it into a proper song, since it is a nice piece of music.
The Rake's Song
Starting with a strong acoustic guitar sound, then some keyboards I think, a patter on the drums, teasing before they kick in in earnest. A low, mechanical buzz acting as bass hits your ears too. This strange mixing of music, the drums sounding like steel roofs being pelted with organised rain, and the buzz sounding slightly like the beginning of one of the Kaiser Cheifs songs from their debut, all sounds pretty good to me. It is a catchy track, and I can see why it was their leading track from the album, made available as a free download via MySpace. I definitely like it, and is another track redeeming from the negative rating I would currently be awarding the album.
The Abduction of Margaret
A thudding bass line, and the drums ready to jump in at any moment. There is the same guitar sequence from one of the other tracks, although, I am not sure which. It pretty much sounds like a direct regurgitation from a previous song, so earns no extra credit in my view.
The Queen's Rebuke / The Crossing
Sang by Shara Worden, another guest vocalist. She has a deep, strong voice, possibly the same person as in "Repaid", though I am not certain. Her voice really carries the song, along with the background "ooh" which come from another lady. Musically it's the basic thudding bass and overdriven guitars from preceding tracks. I am getting so annoyed by it now. However, it does have a nice little solo sort of piece, which sounds pretty good in the middle, so I suppose I can let the repetition slip for this track. The ending of the track then has some organs in it, but in a horrible plain generic way, not in something I would give them credit for. But it is laced under a cool little guitar sequence. A mixed track at best.
The guitar that opens this is nice, its fast paced, sounds like we should be expecting a good track. It has a Native American feel to it, like a tribal thing, yet his voice doesn't go with that, it sounds like he is singing too strong for that, in parts at least. When he sings softer, it blends almost magically. The bass line which enters nearly two minutes in and the associated drums back up the Native American feeling. It is a very Decemberists track, and I really like it. It has a break down later, wit the organ playing, now sounding like a gone wrong wedding, but that is over soon, and back to the better piece, with a nice improvement, which is that odd guitar sound which I find most alluring. It then ends with another broken down piece, yet this time the organs are mixed with guitar, and it sounds nice, the change in vocal tone is very smooth, and it really ends the song off on a high.
Margaret in Captivity
In, YET again, with a similar sound guitar sequence of notes. It is getting tedious now, this isn't anything special at all. I am actually at the point, where I really want to give up listening to the album, and cannot be arsed to continue, with what am sure will be, more of the same. The later bass line, the organs, the overdriven guitar, all the same. I could actually strangle someone, it is that infuriating. What is the track like? Just scroll up and read the comments on one of the others, you'll get the idea. I will however, give it 1 mark, for the ending, which has a nice strings arrangement, which is really peaceful, and emotive.
Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge)
Speed up that sequence from "The Wanting comes in waves", and play it on the electric guitar, and you have the opening. Not repetitive though - no, for once the repeat is - AWESOME. It is catchy, sounds like a shanty piece. It instantly takes over my feet as they tap along to the chords and sounds. I love it, but then it disappears into some little jangles, on what I think is a keyboard, and what sounds like a couple of kids singing, with some slight distortion in their voices. The initial magic of the opening has unfortunately disappeared. Midway, there is a strange screeching sound, which god knows why it's there, sounds like the recording has gone wrong, and its some digital junk. I'm not sure what they were thinking. I don't know what it is supposed to be revenge on, but, it seems unfair that its revenge on people with ears.
The Wanting comes in Waves (reprise)
Pretty much the beginning of the previous track, but then kept constant, with the music from the first time the wanting came in waves, it's a lot shorter though, and near the end has some strings and bits, and a cool fast paced keyboard piece, and just sounds quite awesome. A decent reprise for sure, yet at the end, it sounds like Aliens have landed and captured the singer, as he cuts of suddenly wit the sound of some strange craft...
The Hazards of Love 4 (Drowned)
Opening acoustically, but wait, it sounds more original than the previous openings, not something recycled from an early track!! It is a soft track, which keeps blending into the background, and I forget I am suppose to be paying attention to it. When the drums come in, it keeps a gentle pace, but the overall feel of the song improves, it feels a tad more complete. I would actually cite this as a stronger track, but it still sounds quite generic, something a million of other groups could pen and produce. No swanky instruments, no accordions or anything weird. No shanty sound, nothing giving it a unique edge.
My Final Thoughts
I had been expecting a proper Decemberists album. Something which had this difference, something amazingly unusual. I had been used to things like 'The Mariner's Revenge Song' which is a real sea shanty, and is unbelievably unlike anything I had ever heard. The two albums I had, were just, different, and flawless, they were told stories, but didn't repeat themselves. They feel fresh every time you listen to them, but this...
I haven't actually been so disappointed with an album in a long time. None of the tracks feel like they will grow on me any more than they already have. I know it's designed to be a concept album, and so, with that, you expect linking themes, and ideas, but, I have heard plenty of concept albums (Pink Floyd, Roger Waters) which while running their themes, and links in music, they do not at all sound repetitive and boring. Even 'The Crane Wife' was somewhat of a conceptual album too, wasn't anywhere near as repeating as this.
There was obviously, the odd redeeming feature, a couple of tracks, which were great, but it is like mixing honey in petrol, it just won't taste nice on the whole. This is sure to be an album which slips from my collection rather easily, and I shouldn't think that I will return to listening to it anytime soon. Maybe, give it a few months, a year whatever, I will return and give them a precious second chance to impress me, but I doubt it.
I cannot hide my disappointment, and think that a two star rating is all it deserves, narrowly avoiding a one by the offerings of the odd track. If you really fancy giving it a listen, try out "Isn't it a Lovely Night" and "The Wanting comes in Waves / Repaid" since they are both pretty decent tracks. But leave the rest be, unless you are an avid Decemberists lover, or fan of repetitive music, repetitive music, repetitive music, repetitive music...
They even had the opportunity, with "The Queen's Approach" to add another decent track, but leaving it as a 29 second interlude was a poor effort, and just left further bitter feelings that they didn't bother expanding on it.
Admittedly, I haven't actually listened to their first two albums, so maybe, this is actually what they are normally like, but from what I had listened to, I was expecting something great. They didn't deliver, and I wouldn't recommend this at all!
Summary: Hazards of Buying this album...