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The Decemberists - What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World CD (album) cover


The Decemberists


Prog Folk

2.71 | 34 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
2 stars The first Decemberists album after a four-year recess continued in the same, mainstream direction as "The King is Dead", to the dismay of anyone who, like me, first discovered the group through their ambitious "The Hazards of Love" project in 2009. Since then the band has retooled its idiosyncratic style in pursuit of a more commercial muse, playing shorter songs with fewer eccentricities, explicitly tailored for lower common denominator NPR airplay.

There's nothing wrong with that. When properly motivated, Colin Meloy can still write incredibly well-crafted pop songs ("Make You Better") and lovely acoustic ballads ("Lake Song", and is that a Mellotron I hear over the chorus?). But the material here sounds oddly disengaged, lacking even the lightweight thread of backwoods Americana that held the "King" album loosely together.

"We had to change some", Meloy insists at the start of the album, in a narcissistic ditty transparently named "The Singer Addresses His Audience". The author denies any autobiographical bias, but I don't believe it: he's too smart not to realize the song plays like a slap in the face to longtime fans who treasured the band's originality. We get it, Colin: you've outgrown that trademark antique Victorian charm and tongue-in-cheek narrative whimsy. Change is good, but not when you're defending your weakest album to date (and still performing "The Mariner's Revenge Song" on stage).

Ironically, "The Singer Addresses..." is by far the album's strongest track: a thrilling return to form, at least musically. Elsewhere the songs too often go in one ear and out the other, and thankfully too: "Easy Come, Easy Go", as Meloy sings in the (almost) catchy rocker of the same name. That old-thyme American folk sound from "The King is Dead" resurfaces in "Carolina Low" and "Better Not Wake the Baby" (what was that you said about needing to change, Colin..?) And the band hits rock bottom in the twin nadirs of "Cavalry Captain" and "Philomena", the former sounding not unlike the worst of '80s Phil Collins (but with pithier lyrics), and the latter a fluffy pop nonentity with atypically smarmy lyrics unworthy of the pen that wrote "The Crane Wife".

Let's hope such a unique songwriter, who describes himself (in "Lake Song") as being at one time "seventeen and terminally fey", soon grows tired of career-building and reconnects with the buoyant spirit of his wayward youth.

Neu!mann | 2/5 |


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