The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love


Anyone who has followed the Decemberists’ rise from just another quirky Portland, OR band to one of the most unique and celebrated indie acts around knew that this album was coming. With The Hazards of Love, Colin Meloy takes the band from the loose maritime and old-world concepts of their previous records to full-on rock opera.  Those who fancy such things will likely call it the band’s masterpiece: it has almost all the things that make their records such a joy: bombast, beauty, word-play, melodrama, and a great story, but what there is not is what Meloy has always been so good at: songcraft.  Instead, he sews disparate and incomplete patches together to create an impressive but convoluted and confusing whole.  It’s an opera, all right—one pictures them performing these songs with motion and lighting cues, costume changes, cardboard car cutouts and an orchestra in the orchestra pit, rather than playing them on guitars and drums with a gaggle of awkward and oogling pubescents on the rail—but like any opera, it abhors distraction, and a rock album really shouldn’t be such hard work. 
Not everything on Hazards requires such close attention.  The recurring title theme finally begins after a ridiculously long and unnecessary intro track (hear the hustle and bustle backstage?), and it’s a pretty tune, even though it never reaches its full potential until its fourth reprise in the final track.  “Want for Love” and “The Wanting Comes in Waves” at least stand alone musically, though without a working understanding of the album’s plot, the lyrics are just a vague description of a generic forbidden love.  “The Rake Song” and “The Queen’s Rebuke – The Crossing” both continue the heavier rock sounds the band explored on The Crane Wife, but neither seems to make much sense without the rest of the opera, and both feel, like much of the rest the album, incomplete.

As the story’s chaotic knot begins to unravel toward the end, the murdered offspring of the filicidal narrator of “The Rake Song” return to sing through the third reprise of “The Hazards of Love” refrain.  It’s a little creepy, but as the curtain finally falls, it does give pause: while The Hazards of Love is overly self-indulgent and a bit pretentious, it is also a mighty effort of creativity and will, and a record worthy of appreciation, if not necessarily frequent attention.  Colin Meloy and Co. undoubtedly understand the hazards of concept albums and went for it anyway.  In that sense, The Hazards of Love is a complete success, though even the most successful endeavors are worthless without an audience to enjoy them, and there aren’t many casual music fans with Meloy’s resolve—or his diehard fans’ patience.

The Rakes Song – The Decemberists

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