Long-time folk indie rockers The Decemberists released “The Hazards of Love,” their fifth full album on March 24.
Lead singer, songwriter and guitarist Colin Meloy has a history of piecing together fanciful tales of adventure amid a backdrop of acoustic pop and steady, reserved drum beats.
The album exemplifies and drastically expands Meloy’s gift for storytelling, which makes “Hazards” feel like a rock opera. “Hazards” differs from previous works by focusing on a solitary story with continuous lyrical flow, making it difficult to clearly isolate any song from the others.
The opener “Prelude” slowly builds a melancholic pipe organ that transitions seamlessly into the first of four renditions of the title track.
Meloy lyrically sets the stage about Margaret, a damsel in distress who ventured in the woods looking for a fawn. Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond, a Los Angeles-based folk pop group, provides sweet, ethereal vocals for Margaret.
“The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid” is six and a half minutes of melodramatic exchange, both lyrically and musically. Meloy plays protagonist William and sings above an Arcade Fire-like chord progression until an abrupt shift to hard rock and sultry vocals from the villainous forest queen played by Shara Worden, lead singer of My Brightest Diamond.
A tranquil “Interlude” acts as a perfect buffer before the horrifying lyrics of “The Rakes Song,” one of the few songs that could stand alone.Meloy displays his skill for wordplay on “The Rake’s Song” while weaving a tale about how he came “to be living so easy and free.” The Rake sings, “I was wedded and it whetted my thirst,” until becoming a widower finding himself “shamefully saddled with three little pests,” from which he liberates himself through gruesome and cruel tactics.
The Decemberists also expand the group’s musical sound with downright metal thrashing on “A Bower Scene” and “The Queens Rebuke/The Crossing.” These uncharacteristic riffs contrast well with softer songs like “The Queen’s Approach” and “Isn’t It A Lovely Night.” The group tries other experimental sounds in the third rendition of the title track, which enlists a children’s choir to the backdrop of squeaks and high-pitched violins to create a creepy fun-house carnival feel.
“Annan Water” sounds most recognizable in comparison to previous albums. Soft base lines complement the frenzied guitar chords, while Meloy mournfully defies the tempestuous water preventing his journey to find Margaret.
While Meloy’s work has never been instantly accessible to the average listener, “Hazards of Love” will primarily be received by die-hard fans. Furthermore, this collection of songs makes more sense as a live performance than an album.
The experiential nature of this album requires full attention rather than a haphazard approach.