Like a lonely wolf baying for it’s first taste of meat in a week is a vision conjured up when I hear The Decemberists. People might think this image is strange and not in line with the band’s American Indie-folk apparel, but I beg to disagree. With their keen sense of how to write a near-perfect folky tune that can hit you right between the eyes with no apologies, the band jump at you and make you listen with as much force as folk can do. So does the new record What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World have the same bite as previous efforts?
What’s first noticeable about this album is it’s lack of one coherent idea. This actually benefits the music, allowing it to move more freely than before, and lets the band be more creative without losing track of the main themes, which hold the record together. The Singer Addresses His Audience kicks off proceedings with the comforting vocals of lead singer Colin Meloy set against acoustic guitar and fiddle. It’s warm and self-indulging stuff as Colin throws out lyrics such as ‘we know we belong to you, you know you built your life around us’. This is all tongue in cheek and sits well as a track full of clever instances with a wonderful build up.
First single Make You Better sounds like a happier version of REM sitting on a wave of bittersweet harmonies, whereas Philomena’s riff-laden melodies set the listener off on a jaunty adventure which once again is pulled together by some clever wordplay and imagery, as Colin sings of youth and ‘All I wanted in the world was to see a naked girl’.
The album flits around genres whilst also not straying too far from itself; this is a skill only bands that have had a few albums under their belts can attempt and they really make it work. Till the Waters All Long Gone and Carolina Low take on a bluesy narrative folk vibe, with the former producing a sombre affair and the latter feeling simple and soulful – just like the old blues classics. This helps show the areas the band are willing to try, before reeling us right back in with the sea shanty tones of Better Not Wake The Baby. Its vocals might seem a little underwhelming, with the song perhaps being more suited to a gruff and growling voice, but its still a decent effort that shouldn’t be condemned.
What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World is definitely a return to form for the Portland band. The album dips and rises melodically throughout, with the band now fully aware not just how to make music, but make an album that rings true all the way from the beginning to the end. Mixing beauty with insights and shifts in tone, the record is up their with their best work.