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The Decemberists - Her Majesty CD (album) cover


The Decemberists


Prog Folk

3.10 | 44 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars 'Her Majesty The Decemberists' establishes THE DECEMBERISTS as purveyors of high-quality folk rock, but takes a step back from its predecessor in terms of progressive content. This album has the feel of an ambitious band in search of a definitive sound. In fact, I suspect the band had temporarily lost its way.

The album opens with the difficult sea shanty 'Shanty for the Arethusa'. Difficult because there isn't a melody or hook to hang on to, just an unsettling rhythm - which is exactly what COLIN MELOY intended. The music reflects the lyrics. Fans of this band understand that the lyrics are an integral part of the package, and the problematic nature of colonisation is being interrogated here: the attitudes towards aborigines, the human cargo in the ships, the link between slavery and commerce. It almost works. 'Billy Liar' almost works, too, but fails for the opposite reason to the opener: it is too obviously THE DECEMBERISTS' take on 'Arnold Layne'. Jaunty tunes and risque lyrics match each other but don't do more than amuse.

This is typical of the album. Obtuse or obvious, these are interesting vignettes presented with care and clarity, but they somehow fail to engage the listener. The drama of life is lost amid the prosaic: 'I can see your undies.' I do enjoy the lyrics, though. The wry irony of the album's best song, 'Los Angeles, I'm Yours', in which the singer hates the city he loves, is delicious. 'The Bachelor and the Bride' is darker, returning to a common MELOY preoccupation with sexuality and power. 'Song for Myla Goldberg' is impenetrable. 'The Soldiering Life' is a chance to explore the love men can have for each other, and MELOY does it well. You'll notice I'm not mentioning the music, because on this album it is too subservient to the lyrics. The band simply doesn't offer enough entertainment to make their sometimes dark messages palatable.

To me one of the enduring traits of progressive rock is overarching themes expressed by dramatic music. This material examines the small things, using gentle tunes and understated arrangements. Again I am reminded of the comparison with BRUCE COCKBURN, who did this sort of thing twenty years ago (check out 'The Trouble with Normal' and 'Big Circumstance') with more verve and a greater acuity of vision. By no means could this album be construed as prog, nor is it anything more than a wry stepping stone on the way to more consequential work. It is good, no doubt, and reeks of merit, but it simply does not engage.

russellk | 3/5 |


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