The Decemberists: “The King Is Dead.” Why I just don’t get it

We all know the Decemberists for their complex narrative songs and unique baroque-pop sound. Through their discography, which spans over ten years, they have never made any dramatic changes to their musical style. That is, until they released “The King is Dead” this past January.

The album strays from their usual style in two major ways. First, they aren’t telling stories anymore. The lyrics in “The King is Dead” are much more pastoral, and nature oriented. The second, and most shocking is that it is–an Americana album? Yes folks, they even went so far as to record it in a barn. The complex and beautiful arrangements we all remember from their first five albums have been replaced with minimalistic variations on traditional themes. And I have no doubt that ten years from now, we will all remember the divide. The divide between “old Decemberists” and “new Decemberists.” And of course, I will probably tell anyone who will listen that I, Nash Whaley, was there from the beginning.

That isn’t to say that change is never welcome. My only real bone to pick with Colin Meloy is the fact that he managed to do something completely different without being even slightly ambitious. That is quite an achievement in and of itself. It’s the kind of generic Americana that makes people cringe when they hear the word.

That being said, it wasn’t entirely a lost cause. I rather liked a few of the songs on the album. The 9th track, “This Is Why We Fight” has an infectious riff that simply will not leave me alone. Hours after hearing this song, listeners will still be humming the tune. The only remedy is to indulge in something equally infectious, yet much more refined. Like Kate Bush or something…

But really though; the only song I can honestly say I enjoyed was “January Hymn.” It has a traditional sound. It’s pastoral. But it’s also a really great song. The song is very low key and is mainly just Colin Meloy strumming an acoustic guitar and singing introspectively. Okay, so maybe I really didn’t like it that much, but it was better than most of the other crap on that album.

And that’s really all I have. Buy it at your own risk. I’m sure there are those who will legitimately love this album. And I envy you. I’m not ready to give up this band. Not yet.