The Hazards of Love-The Decemberists

hazzards_of_love

The Hazards of Love

The Decemberists

2009

Capitol Records

Creating a story involving a shape-shifting man, a bitter forest queen, ghost-children, and a woman impregnated by the shape-shifting man can be rather difficult.  Turning this concept into an album and having it be a success is even more difficult.  The Decemberists decided to give it a go, pulling out all the stops on their fifth full length album in 2009 with The Hazards of Love.  Singer Colin Meloy called upon several singers and fellow musicians to contribute The Hazards of Love. A multitude of instruments fill the songs with enough emotion to tell the story without even using lyrics, if need be.  Meloy collaborates with Becky Stark and Shara Worden to tell his unique tale.  Meloy voices the story’s main character/shape shifting man, William as well as all other male characters in the story, which later can be a bit confusing; Stark fills songs with her soft-peaceful voice as Margaret, William’s lover; Worden booms through the  songs as the Queen, nearly stealing the show from the other two.  The Portland, Oregon based folk-rock band will catch your ear whether your into eccentric folk music about dear men or not.

The album begins, respectively, with Prelude.  The three minute plus instrumental intro to the album is what sets the overall tone for the songs that follow.  It provides the listener with preparation- a foreshadowing of whats to come.

The Prelude leads into The Hazards of Love 1(The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle the Thistles Undone). This “Once upon a time…”-esque song is sung by Colin Meloy in the “First Voice.”  He delivers this song in the third-person-narrative.  Essentially, he is presenting the listener the story of how William and Margaret meet.  Repeating “You’ll learn soon enough.” Musically, the song emits a dark, yet fantastical undertone to the story.

A Bower Scene, the song that follows is also sung by Meloy, but now in “The Second Voice.” This is where the confusion may set in due to Meloy’s multiple characters.  Regardless, this song leads into the part of the story in which Margaret finds herself in quite a predicament-she is baring the child of William, the shape-shifting man.  Instrumentally, the song presents suspense, ending heavily.

Won’t Want for Love (Margaret in the Taiga) introduces the listener to Becky Stark, the voice of Margaret.  Stark’s voice brings Margaret to life, creating a kind and peaceful, enraptured by love for another-she’d do anything for her man kind of  persona for Margaret.  Stark’s portrayal of Margaret seems to exceed everything Colin Meloy intended when writing her role.

The Hazards of Love 2 (Wager All) follows the seemingly desperate search in the forest for the star-crossed lovers in the song that precedes.  Opening with a mystical tone, the love between William and Margaret is evident in this song.  It isn’t a traditional love ballad, which is what makes it all the more intriguing.

Following briefly, more like twenty-nine seconds, is The Queen’s Approach. This is obviously, without visual, a representation of the Queen entering the story without the two main characters, entwined in love, knowing.

Isn’t it a Lovely Night? is a duet with Meloy and Stark as William and Margaret.  Among other instruments, the accordion is a lively presence in this song; bringing the effect of two proud lovers in the middle of the forest enjoying their time together.

This peaceful, calming, loving atmosphere is then interrupted by the Queen in The Wanting Comes in Waves. It is in this song the listener is introduced to Shara Worden.  Although Meloy and Stark are the main characters of this twisted tale, Worden steals their thunder.  With pipes like Grace Slick, she enters the album like a freight train you cannot ignore.  It is Shara Worden’s voice that delivers the power this album needed.  The chemistry is incredible.

Another Interlude is delivered and soon followed by The Rake’s Song, sung by Colin Meloy (creating further confusion, since every male character is sung by Meloy.)  The song’s macabre nature describes how a widower murders his three children and feels no remorse.  The song offers a catchy but dark beat with a great flow lyrically and musically.

The Abduction of Margaret soon follows and (obviously) is a short narrative from our “First Voice,” Colin Meloy, about how Margaret is abducted.  The riff is the exact same as the one in the Bower Scene only slightly heavier.

The Queen’s Rebuke/The Crossing follows, once again featuring the voice of Shara Worden.  Backed by powerful and heavy guitar riffs, which pair with her voice and presence on the album quite well, she tells the tale of how she took pity on William as a child.  The bitterness of the Queen is well portrayed and is clearly evident in this song.

The thirteenth song on the album, Annan Water, is William’s desperate attempt to save his beloved Margaret without drowning and dying along the way.  With the quickened tempo of the instrumental behind his lyrics, his desperation can be felt both lyrically and musically.

Margaret in Captivity is yet another duet with Meloy and Stark but as Rake and Margaret.  It is clear that Rake is her abductor.  Meloy delivers Rake’s role in a sinister fashion, while Stark yearns for her savior.

The Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge!) delivers the same riff from The Hazards of Love, except with a quickened tempo and with an orchestra of more instruments and effects added.  Rather than sung by Meloy, the lyrics (also the same as The Hazards of Love) are sung by a choir of children representing the three ghost children murdered by Rake.

The Wanting Comes in Waves (Reprise) is a different version of the song, also with a quickened tempo and effects.  The song is a  representation of  the falling action of the story. Ending with Meloy bellowing “And I want this night,” followed by a phaser-effect signifying the fall of our protagonist.

The final song on the album, The Hazzards of Love 4 (The Drowned), brings an end to the saga of William and Margaret.  Both musically and lyrically their tragic ending by the waves together is an emotional conclusion to the tale.  It is safe to say it is not the typical hollywood ending, none the less it is an appropriate ending to the album.  The melodic instrumental brings closure to the listener, and who knows, maybe even a tear.

Overall, the album sings true that a folk-inspired rock opera can be successfully accomplished.  Essentially, it is not the lyrical content or even the lyrics that are important to the story.  Rather, it is the whimsical yet powerful array of various instruments that on their own can tell the story, that are the main body to this album.  Although I can describe this album to you in full detail, if you so desired, I cannot. This review hardly does this album any justice. You just have to give it a listen. It will be an album that will catch you by surprise if you are a first time Decemberists listener. Well worth it.

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