Since self-releasing their first album in 2001, The Decemberists have seemingly become indie-folk-rock royalty. They have even made it into an episode of The Simpsons, which some may say is the pinnacle of success.
What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World is their much anticipated eighth album after a four year hiatus since the incredibly successful The King Is Dead, the extensive touring of which clearly burnt the group out.
The band’s lead singer and only songwriter, Colin Meloy, describes feeling “almost embittered” in a recent interview with The Guardian. This seems to explain ‘The Singer Addresses His Audience’ which offers a rather bleak view of the relationship between musicians and their fans:
“We know, we know, we belong to ya/We know you built your life around us”
That and ‘Anti-Summersong’ show something bordering on contempt for the band’s success and fans – although it’s a jolly-sounding tune that makes you feel you should be dancing around a barn, hay underfoot.
There are moments on the album where it hits the right notes. ‘Till The Water’s All Gone’ is a tender ballad that flows like water over pebbles and washes away the dirt. The bouncy folk song ‘Better Not Wake The Baby’ is a toe-tapper. And, as always, Meloy and Jenny Conlee harmonise beautifully.
But I almost wonder why they made this album – it feels like their hearts aren’t in it. It feels somewhat formulaic.
I can almost get more excited about the album artwork and limited edition deluxe vinyl box set which comes with a masonic banner (yes!), three lithographic prints designed by Carson Ellis (Meloy’s wife), five really groovy embroidered iron-on patches, plus a t-shirt! Does anyone else feel like they are overcompensating?
The first single ‘Make You Better’ is a catchy pop tune, as many of the songs on the album are – light beautifully harmonised ditties, but they seem to lack any real depth. As the song says:
“But we’re not so starry eyed anymore"
It seems they aren’t, and neither are we. Who’s going to make that better?