Friday, January 23, 2015

The Decmberists: "What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World" (album review)

Right off the top I have to declare that I often find Decemberists albums to be patchy.  A lot depends on whether I get invested in the theme of the record.  If I don't, I tend to find far more filler or underwhelming material than on the ones that suck me in.

Unfortunately, their latest album (which came out this week), What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World, fails to get me excited about the concept.  So it's left up to the individual songs to sell me on the record.

Many of the tracks are simply too sterile.  I want some rough edges on The Decemberists' otherwise well-crafted pop rock songs.  The glossy horns on "Cavalry Captain" and the Adult Alternative sound of "Make You Better" do little to compel further exploration.

The band seem intent on reaching back for influences, that quite frankly are a bit odd.  There's a Paul Anka sock-hop arrangement to "Philomena", that juxtaposes with the sharp-tongued lyrics.  "Mistrial" may be the biggest whiff on the record, coming across as a modernized version of The Eagles.

The entire record is not without redeeming features however.  The Southern Gothic gets cranked up for the banjo plucking "Better Not Wake The Baby", and the hooky fiddle-fueled "Anti-Summersong".

To many of these songs linger too long without going anywhere.  Slow numbers like "Lake Song", "12/17/12", and the winding, sprawling "Till The Water's All Gone" quash any momentum the album may be gaining.

A handful of tracks aside, What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World is not mandatory listening for anyone other than the most ardent Decemberists fan.

The Decemberists play Massey Hall in Toronto on March 30th.

Best tracks: "Better Not Wake The Baby", "Anti-Summersong"

Track listing for What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World:
  • The Singer Addresses His Audience
  • Cavalry Captain
  • Philomena
  • Make You Better
  • Lake Song
  • Till The Water's All Gone
  • The Wrong Year
  • Carolina Low
  • Better Not Wake The Baby
  • Anti-Summersong
  • Easy Come, Easy Go
  • Mistrial
  • 12/17/12
  • A Beginning Song

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