By KYLE SHEARIN
By now listeners have learned what to expect from The Decemberists; folk infused, literate, period-piece songs and albums spanning various cultures and centuries.
But 2009’s “The Hazards of Love” was a prog-folk opera of sorts complete with a dungeons and dragon’s story line and multi part “suites” that tried the patience of even the most devoted Decemberists fan.
“The King Is Dead” is a much simpler affair. Perhaps not having a theme is the theme? Probably not, but all the songs do have an abundant country-folk twinge to them, giving the band a fresh coat of paint without adding the bells and whistles the band’s devoted all relish.
“The King Is Dead” (perhaps a play on The Smiths?), is still very much a folk album, just drunk off moonshine and really into R.E.M. There are some really pretty melodies here, like on “Dear Avery,” which recalls something close to Wilco’s more delicate songs.
Lyrically, the band is pretty much the same, just not as dramatic as their previous efforts which don’t give a feeling of displacement.
The opening track “Don’t Carry It All” is rousing and will probably become a mainstay at future Decemberists concerts with a commanding hook and lush harmonica.
The duet between vocalist Colin Meloy and Gillian Welch on the rousing “Down By the Water” is a another clear standout. Unfortunately “June Hymn” is a bit meandering and doesn’t really pay off.
The record works best when it feels less like a solo effort from Meloy, but flourishes with the band as a whole.
At a tight 10 tracks, this 40-minute offering strips the group a lot of the fat and theatrics that could have helped them deliver something more rejuvenating.
Variety is often this band’s friend and it really doesn’t have too much going on from one song to the other.
Perhaps this step back to simplicity was needed, but it also gives the record a lack of depth that the group usually delivers.
The songs are nice and are all generally likeable, they just aren’t compelling enough to leave a lasting impression.
3 and a half stars out of 5