One week ago, I purchased The Decemberist's new album knowing that they had taken this album in a different direction and the album reviews were mixed. After about 5 listens to the album, I'm sufficiently ready to give my album review.
What this album is:
Pleasant. The King is Dead is pleasing to the ears and is brimming with catchy melodies that could lift you up even in your darkest days. This is a bit of an oddity for The Decemberists because much of their past music is bitter sweet which can manifest a variety of emotions in the listener. This is nice because they were due to put out something a little more light-hearted after Hazards of Love, even thought that album, in my opinion, approached musical genius.
What this album is not:
Frankly, this album is a collection of americana pop-folk songs that last about 3 1/2 minutes each. It is reminicent of Colin Meloy's college band Tarkio, except a little more polished and radio-play ready. The instruments used in the album, such as fiddle and harmonica, were a nice touch, but may have just been used as genre signifiers. Without them, it might not be so obvious that this is supposed to be folk. At worst, we could say this is nothing more than formulaic top-40 music with a fiddle, but I honestly feel there is a little more heart in this album than that statement would suggest. The lyrics are still up to par with previous Decemberist albums, but there's no reason for Colin to lose his poetic passion overnight.
This album is a downgrade from Hazards as well as much of their other music, but that doesn't mean that this album is bad. It's not, it's quite good, just lacking in some of the characteristics that made me fall in love with them in the first place. If you have never heard The Decemberists, this isn't the album to start with because it doesn't capture their true creativity as musicians. Castaways & Cutouts, Picaresque, The Tain, Crane Wife, and Hazards of Love better exemplify their aesthetic and skill, but The King is Dead will fit in nicely with their discography once we come to terms with the fact that not every album of their's needs to be a musical masterpiece.