Released on March 24th, The Decemberists fifth full-length studio album “Hazards of Love” is a true testament to the possibilities inherent to the marriage of progressive rock and indie folk.
“Hazards of Love” isn’t your typical Decemberists fair.”Hazards” continues the more complex song structures and darker lyrical themes the group explored in “The Crane Wife,” their previous album, released in 2006.
And while front man Colin Meloy has gone on record as saying that he wanted to explore softer, folkier themes with this album, the end result is anything but.
“Hazards of Love” is a concept album in the truest sense of the word. All 17 tracks contribute to an overarching narrative, telling a story of love, betrayal, revenge, and infanticide.
“Hazards” relates the tale of Margaret (sung by Lavender Diamond’s Becky Stark), a city girl, and William (Sung by Meloy), a forest-dweller with the curious ability to shape-shift into a fawn.
At their first meeting, Margaret attempts to repair the injured fawn’s hind leg, only to discover that the fawn is in fact, a man. Pregnancy ensues.
The couple fall in love, and, as all star-crossed lovers are wont to do, they immediately attract the attention of dark forces. These forces are personified in the character of the Queen (sung by My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden), William’s adopted mother and the story’s main antagonist.
The Queen, unwilling to allow her son to frolic and fornicate in the woods, enlists the services of the murderous Rake (a womanizer, not a gardening implement) to spirit away the object of her son’s desires.
The Rake, it should be said, is the unrepentant source of the aforementioned infanticide, going as far as to detail his ghastly methods in own, self-titled song later in the album.
Now, revealing the ending would be both anti-climactic and irresponsible, considering that the album’s intent is to weave a story, and any attempt at condensing said story into a sentence would be doing a great disservice to the narrative.
That said, the ending isn’t for the “happily ever crowd,” as any overzealous fan will attest.
The album doesn’t have a single weak track, although there are a handful of standouts that deserve repeat listens outside of the established narrative framework.
“Won’t Want for Love,” “Isn’t it a Lovely Night?,” “The Wanting Comes in Waves,” and “The Rake’s Song” are all catchy, complex tracks, that are not only most indicative of the subject matter, but are prime examples of the Decemberists’ musical and lyrical versatility.
The album ranges from soft folk ballads to hard rock, bordering on metal, sounds. Colin Meloy’s lyrics are English literature on acid, marrying antiquated terms with child-murder and the defilement of young women.
“Hazards of Love” is an album written, recorded and released for a specific crowd, namely those willing to take their music with a hint of irony, a splash of story, and a whole lot of SAT vocabulary.
The music is fantastic, powerful, and evocative. I recommend it to anyone, if only because I too hope to break free from the clutches of my overbearing forest-witch mother and run away with my pregnant girlfriend.
Because really, don’t you just love it when that happens?