Don't worry he isn't really. That's just the title of the new album from The Decemberists. You probably knew this review was coming. I'm surprised I didn't write it sooner. The band allowed the whole album to stream on NPR for a few weeks prior to the actual release of the record. They were even nice enough to give out the first single for free to us.
When I heard that initial single, Down By The Water, I actually thought it was a John Mellancamp song. Starting a song off with an unmistakable harmonica lick is a classic Americana Bluegrass sound. I was actually really surprised when I eventually heard Colin Meloy's voice enter. I'm used to The Decemberists being this Victorian British Folk sound from a strange far off world called the Northwest United States. Everything they write has this other worldly, fantasy novel, steam-punk, connotation with me. When the band released Hazards of Love it felt like they took that idea and that vein of work to its extreme and almost exhausted it. I'm very pleased to say that this new-er direction feels effortless. It's as if the band has been an American Folk group this whole time and we never noticed. In a way that's true. Hazards of Love may have seen the introduction of harpsichord sounds but did you notice the steel guitars and banjos? Leaning heavy into a harder rock sound Hazards of Love set a natural growth into the sounds we hear on The King is Dead.
I must say that probably one of my favorite parts of The King is Dead is the fact that Gillian Welch is present on nearly every track. Her harmonies in the song Rox in the Box make it impossible for anyone not to sing along. I think having her involved was crucial to the success of this album. If you're going to delve into Americana music you're going to have to do it right. You can't have Americana without killer harmony work and that's what Gillian is there for. Maybe she's there to lend a little street cred to the group too. She's the ft P.Diddy of this music scene.
I do have one complaint about the album. I hate the choice for album opener. I don't hate the song at all. Don't Carry It All is really a lovely song, but it doesn't really do a very good job of grabbing the listener into the album. I think the album is a tad back heavy. Probably the strongest song on the album is This is Why We Fight which is followed closely by the lovely ballad Dear Avery. These are also the last two songs on the album. Maybe I just like these songs so much better than all the others that it's a personal feeling of lopsidedness. The whole album is truly wonderful don't get me wrong, but I truly feel that the later songs are the stronger works.
Go out and buy this album. Download it on iTunes or Amazon. I really don't care. This album still has the lovely imagry you would expect from The Decemberists, beautiful flowery word choice that you'd expect to find in a Dickens novel and not in a folk album. Added to that we have lovely new sounds that feel so right and effortless. I don't think Meloy's vocals have ever sounded better or more matched to a style than they do now. BUY THIS ALBUM!