Released: Mar 24, 2009
Genre: Indie Rock, Folk Rock, Progressive Rock
Label: Capitol Records
Number Of Tracks: 17
The Hazards of Love tells the tale of Margaret, a woman from a city near the forest, and her lover William, a shape-shifting forest dweller.
The Hazards Of Love
UG Team, on april 08, 2009 2 of 3 people found this review helpful
Sound: Originally conceived as a musical, The Decemberists newest album, The Hazards Of Love, is by far their most interesting (albeit at times strange given their more traditional sound) and theatrical album yet. Though the concept of the musical was eventually scrapped in favor of producing a veritable rock record, the drama remains.
The Hazards follows the story of two lovers, William and Margaret, chronicling their affection for one another as well as the trials and troubles the two endure. Right after the two are introduced, naturally, the listener discovers that their love cannot exist as wished for in the context of their society. Instead, the songs describe rather stereotypical ailments besetting the young lovers Margaret discovers she is pregnant, an evil Queen stands in the way, Margaret is eventually abducted, Margaret sings in captivity, etc.
Though Colin Meloy (songwriter, singer, guitarist) is arguably one of the most talented songwriters of our day, the story here is not extraordinarily well put together. Though the listener is actively aware that there are multiple characters, it is at times rather difficult to actually follow the plot. This is in large part due to Meloy's decision to sing multiple parts including the main character, William, though he does at time relinquish vocal duties (in a particularly moving moment My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden takes over). Becky Stark (of Lavender Diamond) makes a fantastic addition as the character Margaret.
What defines this album, however, is not the unusual structure of the album (with multiple versions and reprises of the same songs) or the plot. What truly sticks out is the unusual sound the band brings to the record. Gone is the full-on indie/folksy feel that the Decemberists brought to their earlier albums (even their last record, The Crane Wife). Instead, in addition to the more traditional acoustic guitar driven songs are is a whole slew of newer, harder driven songs with raw, forceful guitars that bring to mind more classic rock, prog-rock, and metal than folk. Songs like The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid and The Queen's Rebuke/Crossing opt for fuzzed out riffs that are strikingly similar to bands like Led Zeppelin. Other songs like Margaret In Captivity and The Hazards Of Love 3 sound like they were cut from a Yes album, incorporating metal with sweeping classical music. // 8
Lyrics: The rock-opera component of the album makes for an enjoyable listen, time and time again. Colin Meloy is a terrific writer and the structure of the album gave him free reign to twist tales of the trials of love like never before. If you enjoyed The Crane Wife, you are sure to thoroughly love this. As stated before, the only downside to the album is that at times the plot becomes a little difficult to follow, as Colin sings the parts of several characters (such as both the protagonist and the narrator). This is downside is more than made up for though by the addition of vocalist Becky Stark as Margaret. // 7
Overall Impression: It is this unique sound and further exploration of different genres that truly won me over as a listener. Certainly, this album is a bit odd and was not at all what I expected it to be when I first listened to it. Maybe it was the metal riffs, the children's choruses, or the extensive theatrics of it all I don't know. But one thing is for certain - The Decemberists have put something together that is interesting, enjoyable, and very refreshing. If anything else, The Hazards Of Love is an album that will catch you off guard but become better (and more appreciated with each and every listen. // 8
The Hazards Of Love
DonTago, on march 31, 2009 1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Sound: The album starts with a pulsating hum, building more and more, then transitioning into an ominous church-style organ ringing over synthesized chords. This is the "Prelude", introducing us to the tone held within The Decemberists new album "The Hazards Of Love." This intro is a good sign you will not find any hook-laden pop-ballads to beloved girlfriends. This is a dark album. I have heard some recount the sound of some tracks as tettering on metal. Listen to such head-banging tracks as "A Bower Scene", "Queens Rebuke" and "Won't Want For Love." These are some drop-D diamonds, a more rough and seething sound The Decemberists have not dabbled in during previous albums. And I must admit, they do so successfully. At the same time, this album contains plenty of tracks which warmly remind us why we love The Decemberists in the first place. For instance, "The Hazards Of Love 2(Wager All)" strums a simple yet hauntingly eerie chord progression that has the Decemberists signature style, while "Isn't It A Lovely Night" has that old-fashioned folksy accordian-filled tempo that only Colin Meloy could pull off. So have The Decemberists created the first folk-metal album, maybe (one listen to "The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid" might make you consider it). But maybe this was just the next step in the adventurous and pioneering sound The Decemberists are constantly developing. // 9
Lyrics: Where does one start when trying to describe Decemberists lyrics? Just as in Crane Wife, Colin Meloy sticks to the story-telling structure for "The Hazards of Love". Also, as in other Decemberists albums, these tracks contain some quite disturbing and macabre imagery within their lyrics. Overall, the theme through most of the songs appear to do with just what the album title implies, all the bad things that happens when we resign ourselves to love, however, all based in a historical fantasy background. For example, in "Annan Water," the character dismays on his potential death while trying to reach his loved one, embodied in the lyrics, "you may have my precious bones on my return." Meanwhile, in "The Rake's Song," we are presented with a comedic telling of one mans frustration with his wife having so many children, one of which killed his wife in child-birth. So the "humble narrator" recounts how he came to murder each one: "Charlotte I buried after feeding her foxglove/ Dawn was easy, she was drowned in the bath" This must be the most catchy song on infanticide I believe there is. Additionally, we are privy to the back and forth frustrated conversation between mother and son in "The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid". Dearest mother anguishes, "How I made you/ I wrought you, I pulled you/ From war I labored you." Definitely a testament to motherly love. All around, this album has some fun, creative and inspired lyrics. Though you may not find any songs lyrics to personally relate to, whether they be songs about archiac psychopathic baby-killers (Rake's Song) or evil villians hiding away beautiful heroines, you will still definitely have amazing journey doing so! While some complain that Colin Meloy needs to grow up and leave behind his obsession with convoluted story-telling and fantastical costumey drama lyricism, these aspects of his albums are in fact one of my favourite parts of listening to him. // 10
Overall Impression: Admittedly, "The Hazards of Love" is a a very ambitious project. Meloy's major label success has more unleashed his over-active imagination rather than reigned it in. I will confess that this album and direction The Decemberists are heading in is not for everyone. This album lacks sing-along happy tracks like "July-July", "Sixteen Military-Wives" and "O Valencia!" from previous albums. Additionally, some may feel all the guest vocalists are overdone and the guitar shredding a bit out of place, but these would be people expecting a regurgitation of "Castaways And Cutouts" or "Picaresque." I will not say that this is my favourite Decemberists album, but I admire the inventive direction and sound Meloy seems to consistently deliver. // 8
The Hazards Of Love
Tombe, on may 11, 2009 1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Sound: The Decemberists have always been a slightly odd bunch, playing a unique fusion of folk, psychedelia and prog rock. They dress like they're from the 1800s, frontman Colin Meloy looks like a Lego man with Professor Frink glasses and their guitarist is called Chris Funk. But they really have excelled themselves here.
Previous album The Crane Wife saw the band move slowly away from folk to a rockier direction but they've gone all out this time, producing what has to be the most outright insane album of 2009. Over the course of an hour they get through 17 tracks, ranging in length from 29 seconds to nearly 7 minutes, with enough interludes, preludes and reprises to make your average Genesis album sound like The Best of Snow Patrol. In addition, rather than mixing folk and prog-rock they've simply shunted the two end-to-end, which results in tracks like The Wanting Comes In Waves/Repaid, which cuts dizzyingly between solo voice and harpsichord, Arcade Fire-style anthemics and sleazy country-rock. The whole album is a slightly uncomfortable listen as you never really know what's going to happen next - twiddly, accordion-led folk tunes such as Isn't It A Lovely Night? give way to the arrival of a monstrous down-tuned riff or wailing solo. It seems that when The Decemberists need something a bit different, rather than sitting around a campfire learning to play the hurdy-gurdy, they plug into a wall of Marshall stacks and let rip - one of the highlights of the album is The Queen's Rebuke/The Crossing, which starts with a bone-shaking guitar riff which gives way to a Led Zeppelin-esque rockout with guitarist Chris Funk and keyboardist Jenny Conlee trading solos and licks off each other. // 9
Lyrics: The album is a concept album relating to the title, meaning most songs are actually part of threads that run through the album, telling maddening tales of love gone wrong, mostly revolving around a character called Margaret and an unnamed queen. There's just as much contrast in the lyrics as there is in the music, from the almost-twee Isn't It A Lovely Night? to the dark humour of The Rake's Song, which tells the tale of a man whose wife was killed during childbirth who seeks revenge by killing all his children one by one. It shouldn't work but it does.
The madness of this album extends even to the vocals - Colin Meloy handles the bulk of the vocals on the album, ranging from an Anglophile croon that could have easily come from a Medieval wandering minstrel, to cod-operatic Matt Bellamy-esque vocals on 'The Queen's Rebuke'. Female vocals also make much more of an appearance than on any previous Decemberists albums, and on 'The Hazards Of Love III' there's even a children's choir. // 9
Overall Impression: Men of A Certain Age who were educated in a public school during the 70s will love this album - not since Rush in their prime has someone come so close to an authentic swords-and-sorcery prog rock album. If Jethro Tull collaborated with Muse this would probably be the result.
To really appreciate this album one has to ignore the tracklisting and, like all the best concept albums, listen to it as a continuous piece of music. Then you'll hear just how much attention has gone into this album, as each passage builds through several tracks to a crescendo then dies back down - listen over any 15 minutes of the album to hear the mandolins slowly put down in favour of a rousing Arcade Fire-style anthem or rhythmic, muted guitars which is in turn rudely interrupted by the arrival of a guitar riff that could level buildings.
Even if you're generally not a folkie or a dyed-in-the-wool prog fan chances are you'll be able to find something you enjoy here. If you like anything from late Led Zeppelin and Rush to Neil Young to Muse, you'll probably find something to like here - a strong contender for album of the year. // 9