REVIEW: The Decemberists – “The King Is Dead”

The Decemberists / The King Is Dead / Capitol Records

The Decemberists’ last album, 2009’s The Hazards of Love, was as unique as it was anachronistic. On it, the Oregon folk quintet had the gall to set to music a piece of renaissance literature about a shape-shifting forest imp and a fairy queen. This tale would certainly please 17th century Globe Theatre patrons, but here in the 21st, it was enough to give would-be listeners pause – luckily the album didn’t forget to completely rock. With a name like The King is Dead for their follow-up, one expects at least a few Iambic soliloquies. It’s surprising, then, that for their latest effort the band disrobes themselves of the frilly wigs, corsets and tights in favour of some flannel shirts and acid washed jeans. It’s not Shakespearean theatre, but it’s still somewhat of an anachronism.

Compositions on The King is Dead are no less dense than on Hazards, but there’s certainly a simpler tone to them; a tone that is hinted at in the opening strains of “Don’t Carry it All”: “Here we come to a turning of the season,” sings Colin Meloy, tipping a cap to his returning listeners and letting them know what’s to come. There are no more multi-part refrains; there will be no more Airplane-esque psychedelic breakdowns. The intricate arrangements heard here include fiddles, accordions and harmonicas rather than harpsichords. Accordingly, these songs are better suited to be played at church halls and folk festivals to the sober and the straight-laced than in rowdier theater or arena settings. There’s a rare prominent lead guitar line in the stellar “This Is Why We Fight”, but make no mistake, this album is for the cowpokes and indie folks.

Download: “Down By The Water”, “This Is Why We Fight”

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