The Hazards of Love
What makes a great movie a great movie is the same thing that makes a great song a great song: a narrative so compelling that you can’t pull away from it until the ending is completely revealed. For their second major release on Capitol Records, The Decemberists, led by lead protagonist Colin Meloy, have crafted a tale so strong that decades from now our grandchildren might speak of it as fondly as we remembered the annual visitation of The Wizard of Oz from our childhood. The Hazards of Love is a fascinating and most welcomed throwback to the brilliant days of concept records reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s more popular releases like Wish You Were Here and The Wall.
This dark-side-of-the-womb story that was originally intended to be staged combines all the expected elements of a Brothers Grimm fairytale including a lascivious stalker, an abducted heroine, a raging river, her rescuing hero, an evil Queen and the darkest and deepest of woods. But this imaginative storyline also includes many twists and shape-shifting turns to keep the listener enthralled throughout.
Meloy’s appreciation of the ’60s British folk resurgence was the impetus for this concept after coming upon a rare copy of the venerated folk singer Anne Briggs’s EP entitled, The Hazards of Love. Flummoxed (that one was for you, Colin) by the fact that this EP did not contain a song with this title he went about crafting one and, just as with any good adventure, this was only just the beginning of what lay ahead. Eventually seventeen “Melo(d)ys” poured out enabling the telling of this dark tale filled with romance, danger, fantasy and death. All these songs and instrumentals are skillfully intertwined and help play an integral part in the storytelling. There is certainly a Beatles-esque character to this wonderful project but there are also elements of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Al Stewart, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, ’70s Rolling Stones as well as a wink and a nod to the Blair Witch and to Anthony Perkins’ psychotic love of all things mother.
The Decemberists are an interesting collective of brains, quirkiness and truly solid musicianship. The four legs supporting Meloy’s banquet table are Chris Funk on guitars (of any kind), Jenny Conlee on keyboards (of any kind) Nate Query on an assortment of bass instrumentation and John Moen handling the percussion obstacles laid before him by Colin’s sporadic rhythms and imaginative syncopations. Their ensemble harmonies are especially wonderful and the looping soundscapes they create a la George Martin are just as intriguing as they are essential to the mood of the story.
Joining the band for this effort are guest vocalists Becky Stark of Lavender Diamond and Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond as the female leads, “Margaret” and “The Queen” respectively. There are heavier moments to this otherwise prog/folk oriented record but they are brief. “The Queen’s Rebuke” could be compared to The Who’s “Acid Queen” with Shara Worden doing her best Tina Turner impersonation but I don’t want to take away from Shara’s performance by comparing it to anything else. She totally owns this role.
“A Bower Scene” and “The Abduction of Margaret” have some monstrous moments as well but they are more of an interlude/narration sequence that enhances and helps to punctuate a sentence while moving the narrative along.
The record’s closer, “The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)” serves as the perfect Romeo and Juliet-like ambiance for this heartbreakingly beautiful epilogue.
Remember what it felt like when you first heard your all-time favorite record? No?
You will after hearing The Hazards of Love. Just as with any work by William Shakespeare, Ray Bradbury or any other literary giant there is a certain amount of storyline that’s open for interpretation here but that’s half the fun of this very adventurous project.
I know the year is not even halfway through but this phenomenal example of a writer’s confidence and a band’s unity will surely top everyone’s record of the year lists for 2009.
The Decemberists: www.decemberists.com