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The Decemberists - Her Majesty CD (album) cover


The Decemberists


Prog Folk

3.09 | 41 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars The second release from the "brickbats and Bowery toughs" of Portland, Oregon tried a little too hard to maintain the charm of their earlier "Castaways and Cutouts" album, with mixed results. That defining quirkiness was still intact, and still amusing in a sometimes precious sort of way, but Colin Meloy's trademark adenoidal twang sounds a little forced in retrospect ("I felt a little stymied", he later said, "by the ticking of the studio clock...")

You can almost hear the effort that went into the recording. A lot of extraneous instrumentation was thrown into the mix, possibly to hide the cracks in some otherwise flimsy compositions: assorted horns, stray percussion, and so forth. A sign of ambition, or performance overkill? Some of it works, like the sea-salt stage effects in the opening "Shanty for the Arethusa". But some of it is merely distracting, for example the gumbo of strings in "Los Angeles, I'm Yours", and surrounding "The Gymnast, High Above the Ground".

The latter, at seven-plus minutes long, was clearly meant to be the album's centerpiece, but musically the song is too diffuse to be entirely effective. Ditto the climactic "I Was Meant For the Stage", a concert staple in years to come but not yet fully realized, despite its fascinating breakdown into chaotic dissonance. Elsewhere a potential Decemberist classic like "The Soldiering Life" suffers from what sounds like a rushed arrangement, possibly under the same studio stopwatch that vexed Meloy so much.

Lyrically the album can boast some of his sharpest writing to date, as usual with a cosmopolitan flair for antiquated imagery: chimbleys and knickers and whalebone corsets, in exotic Old World settings redolent of "incense, cardamom and myrrh". And yet, for better or worse, Meloy decided to dial back the anachronisms on this album, exercising his Indie Rock roots more than his Alt Prog aspirations. For proof I direct your wandering attention to the song "Los Angeles, I'm Yours", celebrating an unlikely port-of-call for such an unabashed Anglophile, especially when sung as "Los Angel-ees" (is that how its pronounced in Montana, Colin?)

Bottom line: the band's sophomore album isn't as solid as the '02 debut. But as a placeholder marking time until the return of their muse, it gets the job done. Two-and-a-half stars, rounded up by a forgiving admirer.

Neu!mann | 3/5 |


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