#2 on the 2009 Musical Advent Calendar
The Hazards of Love by The Decemberists
In the music world, there are few things more strange than the Rock Opera. It’s had its shining moments (see: The Who’s Tommy, Pink Floyd’s The Wall or even The Alpha Series by the Mountain Goats, which encompasses songs about one specific couple across many different albums), but more often than not it’s a poorly conceived thought in the mind of a songwriter wearing Bad Idea Jeans™. Genesis, Queensrÿche, My Chemical Romance, and even R. Kelly all have attempted and failed, massively (although Kelly’s attempt would be better defined as a Rap Opera, they all stem from the same base). And that just scratches the surface.
If ever there were a band cut out to create a Rock Opera, The Decemberists are that band. After many albums of long-form sea shanties about corsets, whales, and chimney sweeps, the band decided to tackle a full hour-long album about one subject, The Hazards of Love. With multiple reprises of the same themes throughout, and even four songs titled with the same name (“The Hazards of Love 1-4”), this album was a departure for the band, but yet remained totally in their wheelhouse.
No longer singing about pirates and Victorian-era maidens, the band got a bit more modern, or at least timeless, for the album’s setting:
a love story starring a woman named Margaret (voiced by Becky Stark from Lavender Diamond) who falls in love with a shape-shifting boreal forest dweller named William (voiced by Colin Meloy, the Decemberists’ chief songwriter/lyricist and lead singer). A jealous forest queen and William’s mother (voiced by Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond), the villainous Rake (also voiced by Meloy) and an ensemble of recurring characters bring conflict to the album’s story arc. Robyn Hitchcock as well as Jim James from My Morning Jacket also make an appearance. via Wikipedia
Freeing original band members Chris Funk and Jenny Conlee, who are also, along with Meloy, the band’s primary music-writing team, to embrace their ELO fantasies, this album is a full-on prog rock extravaganza. We saw hints of some progressive thinking from the band on their previous album, The Crane Wife, but those moments were fleeting.
The video above, for “The Rake’s Song” from The Hazards of Love, comes along in the middle of the album, at the start of what might be called Act 2. The highlight of the album for me are the multiple iterations of “The Wanting Comes in Waves,” a building chorus that in its final iteration climaxes with a full string chorus and piano driving Meloy to shout “and I want this night!”
The band put all its might behind the launch of this album, embarking on a full tour where they played the full album in order. Consequently, they put off a lot of their less-devoted fans, who were expecting them to play the hits from previous albums. Sadly I had to miss them on this tour, as I would have loved to see them play this album in all its glory. They will eventually become my second two-digit band, but that will have to come in 2010 or beyond.
The Decemberists have quite the back log, and if you like what you’re hearing above but are not familiar with the band, you can pick up any one of their previous albums and be satisfied. I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite, but The Hazards of Love would certainly be in the running.
Tomorrow: Numero Uno!
3. Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective
4. The First Days of Spring by Noah and the Whale
5. These Four Walls by We Were Promised Jetpacks
6. Hometowns by the Rural Alberta Advantage
7. Velvet Underground & Nico: “Record Club” by Beck
8. March of the Zapotec/Holland by Beirut
9. There is no Enemy by Built to Spill
10. Dark Was The Night, a Red Hot Compilation
11. The Mountain by the Heartless Bastards
12. Creaturesque by Throw Me The Statue
13. Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band by Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band
14. Horehound by The Dead Weather
15. Promenade by Grand Hallway
16. Grand by Matt & Kim
17. Blood Bank EP by Bon Iver
18. Fever Ray by Fever Ray
19. Tell ’Em What Your Name Is by Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears
20. Mo Beauty by Alec Ounsworth
21. Here Comes Science by They Might Be Giants
22. Noble Beast by Andrew Bird
23. Hungry Bird by Clem Snide
24. Actor by St. Vincent
25. Elvis Perkins in Dearland by Elvis Perkins in Dearland
26. XX by the XX
27. Grrr… by Bishop Allen
28. Keep It Hid by Dan Auerbach
29. It’s Blitz! by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
30. Beware by Bonnie “Prince” Billie
31. Veckatimest by Grizzly Bear