ALBUM REVIEW: The Decemberists – What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Rough Trade

Released: Monday 19th January 2015

The Decemberists Official Website


When you get to the stage that you’re starring in an episode of The Simpsons, you know you can’t take your eye off the prize. “We know you threw your arms around us… but we had to change,” sings Colin Meloy on the opening track of The Decemberists’ first studio record in four years. And indeed they have. This is a record that finds the band taking stock and taking a more introspective look at themselves on undoubtedly the most personal record yet from the Portland collective.

The Singer Addresses His Audience is somewhat tongue in cheek, but gutsy and ballsy enough to avoid being cringeworthy. Captain Cavalry is, however, a better mission statement. It’s bold and direct and a raw punch to the chest, reminiscent of latter day Idlewild doing their best REM impression, with added horns for extra measure. Next up is Philomena and the first curveball is thrown with this delightful 60’s doo-wop style pop song about losing one’s virginity. Possibly. Make You Better was aptly chosen as the first single; “We’re not so starry-eyed anymore,” laments Meloy, setting the tone for much of the album, as the band come to terms with the things that really matter as you get older.

The beautiful Lake Song is it’s polar opposite, a contemplative ballad full of reminiscence; “You were forever gone but I remember you… full and sweet as honeydew.” An ode to times of innocence, of not being old enough to realise what you have, “well I wrote it down and threw it all away.” The Wrong Year is the best track here.  “Could be that he’s into you, could be that the opposite is true,” sees Meloy abandoning any false sentimentality, urging the listener to remove their head from the clouds where, “the rain falls on the wrong year and it won’t leave you alone.”

Hardcore fans missing the conceptual qualities of The Decemberists will take pleasure in the batch of country songs that follow. Carolina Low is a cowboy song whilst Better Not Wake The Baby comes across all Levellers and Anti-Summersong sees the band injecting humour amid the realisation that it’s, “too little, too late, everybody’s gotta medicate.” There’s a haunted beauty about the atmospheric Mistral whilst 12/17/12 sees Meloy reflecting in his luck at having a loving family in the wake of the Newtown shootings, before closer A Beginning Song sees the band reborn, pondering, “I am hopeful, should I be hopeful?”  Simply, yes.

It may be too early to say we’ve a contender for the album of the year, but don’t be surprised if this album tops many peoples lists come the end of 2015.

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