Album Review: The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love


The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love
The Decemberists - The Hazards of Love (Image courtesy of Capitol Records)

The Hazards of Love is a strange concoction brewed from Colin Meloy's obsession with the British folk revival of the 1960s. It's as if the archetypes and themes of those folk songs were sucked up by an F5 twister (Meloy) and dropped into a foreign landscape: the rock opera.

And it is a rock opera, of sorts. It seems no accident that My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden, as The Queen, invokes the same maternal formidableness as Tina Turner's Acid Queen in Tommy.

Recalling Disney's rendition of "Peter and the Wolf," the music in Hazards illuminates character. Our heroes — the star-crossed lovers Margaret and William — are embodied by plucking banjo, syrupy pedal-steel guitar and sweetly crooned vocals in songs like "Isn't it a Lovely Night" and "The Hazards of Love 4." Bombastic metal guitar heralds the appearance of the story's villains — Margaret's dark father, the forest Queen (see "The Wanting Comes in Waves/Repaid") and the licentious Rake. Eerie harpsichord underscores the chorus of the Rake's spectral rugrats, who return to give Dad a taste of his own medicine.

There are no pauses between songs on this album — you're buffeted through it from start to finish, as if on a river's current. Consequently, it's impossible to ignore the lyrics, or the narrative arc they create: a strange, cautionary tale of the lengths lovers will go to in order to be together.

There are no pirates here, and you won't find tender gems like "Red Right Ankle." But it seems that this album is the consummation of the band's earlier attempts at epic narrative (think the cinematic scope of "The Bagman's Gambit," or the three-part suite of "The Crane Wife.") Listening to The Hazards of Love, you may wish you had Cliff's Notes handy, but stick with this one. It's nothing if not fun.