US - Oregon - Full Moon 226 - 02/04/15
What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World
Capitol (US) / Rough Trade Records (UK)
Frontman, singer and songwriter Colin Meloy and his Decemberists crew has been running within the indie folk rock terrain of music for some years now. Their new record, What a Terrible
World, What a Beautiful World is their seventh album proper since their debut album Castaways and Cutouts (2002, Hush Records, re-released the year after by Kill Rock Stars). I was
thrilled by their second album, Her Majesty... (2003, Jealous Butcher/Kill Rock Stars) and somewhat pleased by their following album, 2005's
Picaresque (Jealous Butcher/Kill Rock Stars) as well. Their acclaimed 2006 record, The Crane Wife (their first for major label Capitol) showed a
more robust, 'professional' band, but I fell more and more out of their world, as with The Hazards of Love (2009). I didn't even check out their last album, The King Is Dead (2011), which went to the top of the charts
in the US. After touring that last one, the band took a break (and put a live recording, We All Raise Our Voices to the Air in 2012. They have also contributed a song to the
Hunger Games soundtrack, as well as appeared in The Simpsons series). This new album is said to be the band's 'most varied and dynamic work, both musically and emotionally', so it is
time to check in on them again.
On the side - over the years - Meloy has also released a string of self-released cover-song solo-EPs entitled Colin Meloy Sings..., counting: Colin Meloy Sings Morrissey (2005),
...Sings Shirley Collins (2006), ...Sings Sam Cooke (2008), and ...Sings The Kinks (2013). In addition, he put out Colin Meloy Sings Live! (2008), which held live
recordings of songs by the Decemberists as well as a handful of covers of songs by The Smiths, R.E.M., Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and more. Well, alongside Meloy (vocals, guitar, bouzouki,
harmonica) stands a gang of multi-instrumentalists Chris Funk (guitar, etc.), Jenny Conlee (Hammond organ, accordion, melodica, piano, keyboards, synthesizer, harmonica), Nate Query (bass,
cello), and John Moen (drums, backing vocals, melodica, guitar). Opener "The Singer Addresses His Audience" puts Meloy at the steering wheel of his vessel from the very beginning, and he's
without doubt the captain of his ship. As with the horn-tinted "Cavalry Captain", which is an uplifting, yet moody song. They still (more and more) move around in the musical landscapes of
R.E.M. (or post R.E.M. aura), taking over as the flagship position R.E.M. had before they folded. They also (somewhat) roam the Radiohead landscapes, even though they are far from going into
the experimentalism, or free-floating ambient escapism songs and sounds of Radiohead. The Decemberists is for sure an American band, rooted in the folk vein bordering the Americana paths.
Sometimes here is even a more folky C&W vibe, such as with "Carolina Low" or "Better Not Wake The Baby".
The R.E.M. connection/relation is obvious, but they do not have the rock band 'attitude' or 'temper' that R.E.M. held (well, not all the time, of course). But, hey, here is even
parts making me think of the folk-dream sound of a Van Morrison. Maybe also with hints of Daniel Lanois, of John Hiatt (well, not his voice), or even Richard Thompson (but not his voice either).
It seems as What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World shows a more personal side (much more than before) of Meloy within his song-writing. As always, there is a strong narrative
throughout the storytelling of the album. He has said that 'having a family, having kids, having this career, getting older... all of these things
have made me look more inward. So some of these songs are among the more intimately personal songs I've ever written.' Well, that's a thing with most songwriters getting older, growing
older, I guess. However, I do not easily jump on the Decemberists' train this time either. It is a solid album, holding melodic songs, and it is somewhat appealing (like the closing track "The
Beginning Song", or the 50s/60s inspired crooning song "Philomena", or the Billy Bragg-meets-Matthew Sweet-meets-R.E.M. "Make you Better"). Nevertheless, they do not catch me. Sorry.
Copyright © 2015 Håvard Oppøyen