Rating: 3.5 out of 5
With ‘Hazards of Love’, The Decemberists previous 2009 offering, receiving extremely mixed reviews across the board, Colin Meloy and company needed to create something captivating and perhaps less ambitious if they wanted to regain any lost reputation, and ‘The King Is Dead’ is what they have treated us to as their sixth studio album.
Recorded in a small barn on a farm in Portland, Oregon, The Decemberists have taken a step back from the pretentious instrumentation of ‘Hazards of Love’ and written an album that puts their previous album behind them and returns to their roots. Infact, do The Decemberists even remember recording ‘Hazards of Love’? It sounds as though they have forgotten completely. The opening track ‘Don’t Carry It All’ features a pounding drum beat begging to be acknowledged from the very first second, and it is a task in itself not to comply. Once the drums have captured you, Colin Meloy’s voice grabs you by the scruff of the neck and shoves you into the corner of a room. The front-man has a subtle croakiness and rawness in his vocal chords that shapes the music and provides something rather unique to a genre of music that can become extremely boring, extremely quickly (cough Mumford and Sons cough).
Luckily, this album does the opposite. Album highlights ‘Calamity Song’ and ‘Down By The Water’ are slightly more upbeat numbers, both featuring guitarist Peter Buck, just in case you didn’t think REM had enough of an influence on the album. Whether bringing in a legendary guitarist to contribute on the album can be considered a blessing or a curse is debatable, but the twanging, nonchalant virtuosity of Buck adds a new dimension to the songs. ‘January Hymn’ and ‘June Hymn’ are slower, heart-felt songs that will strike a chord with any human possessive of a heart.
The Decemberists are a versatile bunch of musicians. They are ambitious, inventive and experimental as showcased in their previous albums, but sometimes less is more. ‘The King Is Dead’ is hardly a groundbreaking record, but then again it isn’t punching above it’s weight. Sometimes less is more, and The Decemberists seem to have taken this on board and utilized this to the best of their abilities.