The Hazards of Love
Capitol Records, 2009
By Renee Addington
Often, when a band puts out a new album, it isn’t really new at all. Certainly, it might contain songs we haven’t heard before, but the style of music, the arrangements and the stories remain the same. The Decemberists, for all the grace and beauty of their work, have been prone to serve the same dish meal after meal, and frankly, one tires of eating lasagna every night. Tonight, however, the Decemberists have served the fresh, delicious The Hazards of Love.
The album’s 17 tracks initially seem daunting, but time passes surprisingly quickly. Being a bit of a concept-album-cum-rock-opera, The Hazards of Love is musically divided into two acts–the tale of two lovers. “The Prelude,” a brief instrumental of synthesizers and strings, eases the listener into the album, though leaving one slightly unsure what to expect.
It’s “The Hazards of Love 1” that really grabs. Colin Meloy’s lyrical genius mesmerizes with his typically romantic, gothic images of maidens and fawns, while the listener adjusts to a rougher, more rustic sound.
“The Hazards of Love 2” is a gorgeous song–so sweet and mellow relative to a typical Decemberists song. The changes to Meloy’s voice as he ages are becoming more apparent, though not in a bad way. He sounds like a folksier James Taylor. That sound adds to Hazards’ ability to mix and match musical styles, veering from folk to indie to country to grunge to metal.
“The Queen’s Approach” is an instrumental track, signifying a twist in the story. It is followed by “Isn’t It a Lovely Night?” which can best be described as a little bit country, a little bit boring. Fortunately, we are repaid with “The Waiting Comes in Waves/Repaid,” the first exposure to Shara Worden’s amazing vocals.
Beautiful, strong female vocalists, the Joplins, have been too long absent from music.
The drama’s intermission is marked by “An Interlude,” a break before the album’s decidedly less enjoyable second half. “Margaret in Captivity” is the point at which the story wears, becomes simply tiresome and loses all flavor. Worse yet is “The Hazards of Love 3,” with its choir of dead children straight out of a Tim Burton film.
The Hazards of Love manages a creative harmony of a beautiful story and foray into new and experimental musical styles. The quality of the music is a bit up and down, occasionally veering into the overbearing and overdramatic. The Hazards of Love is unlikely to be anyone’s favorite Decemberists album, but it is well worth the listen.