The Decemberists' follow-up to 2009's ambitious, sprawling folk-rock opera "The Hazards Of Love" sees the band take a decidedly different, simpler, more straightforward direction that will undoubtedly be welcomed by some fans and reviled by others.
Gone are the epic tales of swashbuckling mariners, doomed Victorian-era love affairs, wood nymphs, and Chinese trapeze artists. "King" seems free of any particular concept at all, and it's ten tracks clock in at a mere 40 minutes, the shortest of any of the band's studio albums.
The first track, "Don't Carry It All", sets the stage for the drastic change in sound from their previous few releases, imploring listeners to "raise a glass to turnings of the season." The song also serves as a wonderful opener, with it's soaring harmonica intro and anthemic verses and chorus. "King" sees lead singer Colin Meloy frequently return to the Americana/roots-rock sound that was so prominently featured in his previous band, Tarkio. As if to hammer home this point, the Decemberists recruited Americana goddess Gillian Welch for the album, and her mostly backing vocals appear on the majority of the album's tracks.
"Calamity Song" sounds like an REM outtake, and even features Peter Buck, who plays mandolin and 12-string guitar on a few songs on the album. "All Arise!" is the closest the Decemberists have ever come to an out and out honky tonk tune. Which isn't very close, but still, closer than one might expect. "Down By The Water", the first single, rocks a little harder than your average Decemberists' tune, and uses Welch's vocals perfectly as a balance to Meloy's. One can only hope that the two collaborate further in the future.
"The King Is Dead" is a gorgeous, simple album that stands as a dramatic counterpoint to Decemberists' albums that have come before. While die-hard fans may not be enthused, listeners looking for a more straightforward folk-rock/Americana album from Meloy & Co. will not be disappointed. Local fans can also see the band at House Of Blues in Boston, as the band will be headlining January 28th and 29th.
The Local Scene:
Speakers: Friday - Top 40 Dance Party w/DJ; Saturday - Flesh N Blood (Poison tribute band), doors open at 8:30
Dante's @ Firefly's: Friday - DJ, no cover; Saturday - The Rock Royalty Tribute Tour (Elvis Presley, Pat Benatar, and Rod Stewart tribute act) $8 cover
Lazy Dog: Friday - Freeballin' (band); Saturday - The Extreme Riders (band)