For those of you who are unaware, The Decemberists are an intellectual band. The lead singer (Colin Meloy) has a degree in creative writing. But, if you didn’t know that already, you’d find out soon enough. It seems that it’s all the band talks about.
That’s one reason why I’ve never been able to get into them, even though the cool kids, or those-in-the-know have always (ALWAYS) touted them as the band. The band that transcends other bands. The band that is more about crafting difficult to understand lyrics than they are about making a good song…like Dylan, except a little more self-conscious. That’s not to say that their music isn’t good. In fact, their music is one of the high points…even if it does seem as though they’re trying too hard.
While previous albums seemed to be based around old English music (sea chanteys and whatnot) and traditional Celtic music, they seem to have gone the route of 70s prog-rockers on this album. Their older musical sensibilities are still there, but there’s more of a sheen around it this time. The second track (the epic, 12-minute-plus, 3 part “The Island”) weaves all of this together. Listen. Can you hear the members of Yes telling each other that they’re still relevant? Do you see the members of Emerson, Lake and Palmer nodding silently in the background? If you can’t, you’re just not trying hard enough. But still, beneath that heavy 70s sound, you can hear the sound of a traditional Celtic group kicking it. Celtic prog-rock? It’s not just a dream anymore…it’s a reality.
“Yankee Bayonet” is a nice little acoustic-driven pop song…but it seems like an outtake from a recent R.E.M. album…except without Stipe’s vocal range.
“The Perfect Crime No. 2” is a completely unabashed, keyboard-driven 70s rock song. You could really pick any group from that era you want…it sounds like all of them. That’s not to say that it’s a poorly done song or anything…there’s just not an original note in it (I think they stole the bass line and guitar solo from a Pink Floyd session).
“O Valencia!” is definitely the high point of the album…and there’s not even anything that amazing about it. It’s a cool rock song with a great chorus (that I can’t get out of my head, no matter how hard I try).
Despite everything I’ve said, I don’t hate it…I just don’t like it very much. I think I figured out my problem with them though. I really wouldn’t care so much that Colin has a degree in creative writing if he just wrote good songs with that background. My problem is that he writes songs with the intent of drawing attention to the fact that he has a degree in creative writing. He writes intellectual songs for the sake of writing intellectual songs, as opposed to writing a song for the sake of writing a song.
Oh yeah…I’m not a big fan of his voice, either.
Favorite Song: “O Valencia!”
Check out their website here