Two years ago, The Decemberists created a progressive folk rock masterpiece with their fifth studio album. A grandiose concept album, The Hazards of Love detailed a woman’s journey through a mythical forest to find her shape-shifting lover.
But, the creation of said album took a toll on the band’s lead singer and creative force, Colin Meloy. So, when he and the rest of the band returned to the studio to record their new album, they decided to go back to basics. On the resulting record, The King is Dead, The Decemberists appear to have found their way out of the forest and into a meadow, where they can bask in the sun.
Meloy credits the work of R.E.M. as his inspiration for this Americana-infused album and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck actually guests on three of the album’s tracks. But The King is Dead is inherently more country than anything R.E.M. ever turned out. Accordions, fiddles, and harmonicas adorn most of the album’s ten tracks and, for the most part, invoke a happier feel than that put forth in the band’s previous work.
Bluegrass musician Gillian Welch lends her vocals to several tracks on the album but, unfortunately, she is relegated to the background. Foregrounding Welch’s vocals may have helped to offset Meloy’s admittedly weaker voice. On more than one occasion, it seems as though Meloy is trying to mimic Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, with less than desirable results.
Despite Meloy’s vocal shortcomings, the album has a number of undeniably catchy songs like “June Hymn” and “This Is Why We Fight.” Other highlights include the atmospheric “Rise To Me,” as well as the gorgeous ballad “January Hymn.” The Decemberists, despite their new record’s morbid title, come through and deliver yet another solid entry to their discography.