CD Review of The Hazards of Love by The Decemberists
The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love
Recommended if you like
Belle & Sebastian, Neutral Milk Hotel, Of Montreal
Label
Capitol Records
The Decemberists:
The Hazards of Love

Reviewed by Jim Washington

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W
ay back when, a critic wrote that XTC’s Skylarking could have been called More Songs About Girls and Weather. To steal that guy’s schtick, the Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love could have been named More Songs About Girls Finding Animals in the Woods, Which Then Magically Transform into a Person, with a Bunch of Death, Intrigue and Revenge Going On, All Possibly Based on Some Obscure Pre-Christian Myth. Yes, it’s another super-dense chamber pop-folk narrative brought to you by the mind of Colin Meloy. Thankfully, the music here is as strong as any Decemberists release so far – sharp, soaring, even quite catchy and rocking in spots.

The Hazards of Love is basically one long song broken up into 17 chapters, with such stage-direction titles as "A Bower Scene," "The Queen’s Approach" and "The Abduction of Margaret." This album is so operatic it includes a prelude and an interlude, and no less than four songs called "The Hazards of Love," helpfully numbered. There are so many repeated themes and reprises you may find yourself wondering if you’re hearing the same song over and over.

And the thing is, it all works.

The Decemberists

The story, as far as I can tell, involves a woman finding an injured fawn, which turns out to be a child magically transformed by a female woodland deity called the Queen. Or maybe not. Again, the songs are so enjoyable, and the narrative so packed, I may just spend the next few weeks figuring it out. The cast includes Meloy, of course, as both hero and villain, as well as guest vocalists Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond and reportedly Robyn Hitchcock and Jim James of My Morning Jacket, though it’s tough to tell.

Whatever they’re singing about, it sounds great. "Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle the Thistles Undone)" is classic baroque Decemberists, and that bleeds into "A Bower Scene," which features an unlikely guitar crunch that recalls Radiohead’s "Creep." The second "Hazards of Love" soars to grand heights, while the duet "Isn’t It a Lovely Night," about a forest rendezvous, brings to mind Shelley Duvall singing as Olive Oyl. I’m not sure how "The Rake’s Song" fits into the grand scheme of things, but it’s a wonderfully dark tale of a reluctant husband whose wife dies in childbirth, leaving him with three unwanted young’uns which he picks off one by one, employing various Edward Gorey-esque methods. "Charlotte I buried after feeding her foxglove," the narrator gloats. "Dawn was easy, she was drowned in the bath / Eziah fought but was easily bested, burned his body for incurring my wrath."

A concept like The Hazards of Love could easily go wrong in other hands, and certainly won’t be for everyone, but give it a chance. The Decemberists have put out their best album yet.

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