Even if you’ve only just heard of The Decemberists, chances are you already have something of an opinion of them. Their last album, The Hazards of Love, wasn’t as much hated as it was ignored, but their two efforts before it, 2006’s The Crane Wife and 2005’s Picaresque, saw them pick up fame at an ungodly speed. At the time, and to some still, the band stood as a sort of figure-head for all that is the North West independent music scene. It’s the kind of distinction that’s bound to gain you a slew of followers, but just as many detractors. Five years since their last truly successful album, The Decemberists release The King is Dead, and cross their fingers that it sees them back to the top.
In the name of full disclosure, I’m not the biggest fan of the band. Even I can’t deny that Picaresque is a great, as are selected songs form the rest of their catalogue. But as their career has pressed on, I’ve tired of both the band’s love of the older, simpler days, and of vocalist Colin Meloy’s singular voice. Come to think of it, that pretty much just means that I’ve tired of the band as a whole.
The King is Dead is largely in keeping with The Decemberists aesthetic, if slightly slimmed and shrunken. Opener Don’t Carry It All announces the albums’ attentions right of, acoustic guitar, violins, and harmonicas engulfing Meloy’s voice, lyrics involving seasons, yard-birds, and a bold-and-brilliant sun clearly telling the listener that this is still the same band. The song fades away without much in the way of surprise, as do sunny strum Calamity Song, and down-tempo slide guitar ditty Rise to Me. Fifteen minutes have yet to pass before it becomes clear: The King is Dead is less interested in blowing its listeners away than previous efforts, and more inclined towards smaller, precisely executed tunes.
It’s a difficult thing: Giving a piece of art a good and fair reading when you harbor something of an aversion towards the artist. To be certain, there’s plenty to like about The King is Dead. The twin Hymns, January and June, are delicate, simple, and filled with gentle beauty, and This is Why We Fight swells in a rousing manor. But the yesteryear longings, when paired with TKiD’s militant simplicity, create something that sounds an awful lot like Dad Rock to me. If The Decemberists are your flavor, TKiD will likely put a smile on your face, though I don’t expect anyone to champion its scaled-back ambitions as yielding their best LP yet. For me, and fellow hold-outs, it’s a pretty safe one to skip.
Pro-Decemberists Rating: B
Con-Decemberists Rating: C-