Rating: B+I had a thought a little while ago: do The Decemberists have a bad song? It seems amazing, because they've released six albums now, but I really don't dislike any of their tunes. There are a few I'm not wild about, but there's nothing I skip going through their collection. That's pretty extraordinary. And while I thought fourth album The Crane Wife slipped a bit from debut Castaways and Cutouts, I was blown away with their most recent album, Hazards Of Love, which I called my 2009 album of the year.
It's no surprise to regular readers of this blog (not that there are any), that, while my musical interests are still eclectic, I've become more and more focused on bluegrass and Americana music. The Decemberists have struck in balance through their careers between folky indie and progressive rock, with their earlier albums tending more towards the former and more recent efforts the latter. The King Is Dead, seen in that light a return to their earlier form, peppered with harmonica, acoustic guitars, banjos, fiddles, and slide guitars. As such, it nicely dovetails with my tastes.
There's still some variety here - opener "Don't Carry It All" is thumping, "June Hymn" is a country lullabye (as Decemberists lead singer Colin Meloy once described earlier song "Red Right Ankle"), the hoe-downy "All Arise!," and even some cajun flavor in "Rox In the Box." Peter Buck of R.E.M. appears and adds his distinctive guitar jangles on a couple tracks, including keying the chorus of "Calamity Song." The band continues its run of not really having a weak track, but at the same time, there aren't any jaw-dropping standouts here like past tracks "The Wanting Comes in Waves," "Crane Wife," or "The Mariner's Revenge Song." It's a set of 12 very good tunes, but nothing that grabs me and won't let go.
While The King Is Dead is a strong album with a great sound, the scope feels smaller than The Hazards of Love or The Crane Wife, which had overarching narratives that made the albums feel epic. The King Is Dead isn't that, but it's a fine effort from a terrific band.
The Decemberists official site