Friday, March 6, 2015

Duplicity: The Decemberists

Perhaps it should be obvious with an album title like What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World, that the album's theme should be duplicity.  It's something that has been done before, even in the genre which The Decemberists are known for.  I loved the Simon & Garfunkel cut of Silent Night merged with a clip from the "Seven O'clock News." I know that it's possible for artists and music video producers to make such a cut now, but it just doesn't seem like something this brilliant has been done lately. 

As I said in the previous blog, people nowadays are too afraid to stand up for their beliefs, for fear of being labeled an extremist, a racist, or an out of touch crazy person.  It's what I find so refreshing about the Decemberists music, that they make bold statements with their music, and it hearkens us back to the folk music of the 60's.  So as I listened to The King Is Dead album, with the "Bold and Brilliant" songs that are so much different from the excrement being played on the radio today (and I hear enough of it at work, I should know), I began to fear that their next album would be nothing like it, and it would be simply a shining diamond amongst a cable car of coal.  It would be just another flash of genius like Keane's first album, or John Mayer's first album.  I should have placed more faith in them, however.  What The Decemberists produced was an album of songs written and formed and molded into a masterpiece.  Social Media and the Internet has allowed Colin Meloy to describe the creation of the album, how it all came together, and I find it endlessly fascinating. 

He says "We had to change, some." It what is so notable about the last two albums, because I go back and listen to the first 5 they released, and I just don't like them as much.  They're darker, more "alternative," and they rely on solely narrative tracks about Mariners and dark and Gothic characters. I once read an article debating whether the Decemberists were an "Emo" band. With these last two albums, the answer is a resounding "no." This is why many of the reviews for The King is Dead are so negative.  They didn't want their band to change.  Well, Meloy had kids, one of the band members had breast cancer, and they started looking at life differently.  They had to change, some.  

But the duplicity of this world, this terrible, beautiful world, is what the album is all about.  In "12-17-12," we have a father elated by the coming of his second son while dismayed at the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.   In "Cavalry Captain," we have the glorious leader of the army, describing himself as "the printed upon your stars," while convincing his underlings to ride off into battle, "and only for a second, we'll be alive."  In "Philomena," it starts out as a 50's doo-wop hit, something that the Everly Brothers would sing, and yet, it reveals itself as an aroused teen trying to get under the skirt of his crush.  In other words, a distinct reality from the "innocent" days we all think of the 50's, a time when probably so much more was taking place.  At the end, with all this in mind, Meloy writes "The Beginning Song," in which he asks, "I am Hopeful, should I be Hopeful?" in a Prufrockian tone that easily brings up the room where women come and go.  However, The Decemberists leave it on a note of wondrous positivity, a bold stand that says, "Yes, we should be hopeful." 

It's an album that, I believe, should easily connect the older, more Gothic works, with The King is Dead.  It works out well in my mp3 player, as the newer album is played prior to the older one, and it works out so well this way.  "The Light, Bright Light..." joins right in with the "Bold and Brilliant Sun" that starts the previous album.  It brings hope to a dark world, in seeing the positive side to what can be one very long marathon of Law & Order, where criminals and serial killer stalk the streets, and where there is no happy ending.  But let's "raise our glasses, to the turning of the season," where we can do something about all this negativity, if we stand upon our beliefs and see the miracles that happen every day, the bright light all around us.  

1 comment:

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