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The Decemberists - The Hazards Of Love CD (album) cover


The Decemberists


Prog Folk

4.08 | 272 ratings

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5 stars Occasionally in this life I am fortunate enough to encounter perfection, to experience the coming together of heart and mind to produce something beautiful beyond comprehension. THE DECEMBERISTS have produced a perfect artifact called 'The Hazards of Love'. After a month on high rotation it continues to entrance me.

THE DECEMBERISTS have been working towards this. Their previous albums have been becoming increasingly elaborate, harnessing their folk/indie-rock background and marrying it to strong rock sensibilities. With 'The Crane Wife' we were presented with something deserving of a place on these archives, a wonderful example of progressive folk-rock. But this, this is something else again.

'The Hazards of Love' is a folk-rock opera. It tells the story of Margaret, who falls in love with William, a shape-shifter. The romance progresses to the point she becomes pregnant, when the forest Queen, William's foster mother, intervenes. 'One more night,' pleads William, and his mother agrees, as long as he returns to her by morning. Up to this point it is standard fantasy fare, albeit beautifully portrayed in COLIN MELOY's inimitable verse.

But the Rake intervenes, a blackguard who had previously killed his three children in order to be free of them. He kidnaps Margaret and, with the Queen's approval, imprisons her in his fortress. William makes a deal with the water blocking his way to Margaret, and in exchange for delivering him to the fortress he promises to return and allow the water to claim his life. Meanwhile the Rake's three ghostly children deal to their father in a deliciously ironic scene. The opera ends when Margaret and William return to the water, there to be married in death.

This sort of material doesn't tend to play well in 2009. But, undaunted, MELOY provides some of the most glorious music to underpin this tragic romance. Bazoukis, acoustic guitars, accordions, JENNY CONLEE's thunderous Hammond, lap steel guitars, heavy metal distortion, an upright bass and powerful percussion are all part of the mix. Apart from the oddly tame first minute of the prologue, there isn't a wasted second in this hour of delight. In fact, I would have enjoyed a little more extension to some of the music. But wishes aren't fishes, so I'm content with spectacular segues from sedate waltzes to heavy rock, from multi-vocal songs to gentle instrumentals. THE DECEMBERISTS use guest vocalists for the female parts, and special mention must be made of the earthy, spine-tingling gift SHARA WORDEN brings to the album as the Queen. Oh my.

This is THE DECEMBERISTS to the nth degree. It combines MELOY's biting lyrics and obsession with personal tragedy with something like a cross between the Grand Ol Oprey, dewy-eyed folk and severe riffage. And oh, how it works. I cannot imagine any ardent lover of music failing to be completely captured by this triumph of an album. This is what the concept album should sound like; this is the standard by which all rock operas should be measured.

russellk | 5/5 |


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