The Decemberists: “The Hazards of Love”
In late 2008, right around the time The Decemberists announced that their next record, Hazards of Love, would be a concept album, they also unveiled a second, smaller-scale project: A series of stand-alone singles, collectively known as the Always a Bridesmaid series. It was a quintessential Decemberists thing to do, and not just because the concept of the stand-alone single is somewhat uncommon in 2009, making it a fitting gesture for a band that has always been in love with antiquity. It was also a move that suggested a certain sense of balance, something else The Decemberists have always taken pleasure in; after all, if they were going to make an album-length suite for their next offering, why not also remind us that they’re good at crafting compact, individual songs?
Taken on its own, however, Hazards of Love is not a recording that exudes balance—not in the least. Not only have Colin Meloy and his cohorts made a concept album, they’ve followed the prog-leaning aspirations of The Crane Wife to their logical extreme, making a full-fledged rock opera, an album with an ongoing narrative, recurring themes and motifs, different characters played by different singers, and nary a stand-alone single in sight. In fact, it’s almost difficult to think of the album in terms of songs at all, as every track flows into the next one and there aren’t traditional song structures so much as snippets of songs—verses, refrains, musical or lyrical themes—that pop up again and again, in different sequences and configurations. In other words, this record is big, not in terms of its sound so much as its scope and its complexity.
Read the rest at Stereo Subversion.