It’s been four long years since the Decemberists have delivered a new studio album (2011’s excellent, chart-topping “The King Is Dead”), and their longtime fans must be wondering after such as long layoff, “Have they changed?” Funny they should ask, as the band answers the matter in their typical tongue-in-cheek way on opener “The Singer Addresses His Audience,” where vocalist/lyricist Colin Meloy admits, “We had to
OK, so there are no tall tales, gruesome murders, suicide pacts, or things of that nature, but the band hasn’t exactly abandoned their intelligent indie pop sound and character only they could provide.
There are plenty of high points on their 14-track new effort including
“Cavalry Captain,” a brassy, ’70s-polished cut that is the most faithful to their old way; “Philomena,” where Meloy takes on a younger character whose sexual awakening is hitting like a ton of bricks (Kelly Hogan and Rachel Flotard provide the slick doo-wop backing vocals); “Anti-Summersong,” a defiant, country-fed cut where Meloy again addresses the need to evolve, where he says he’s grown tired of singing another “suicide sing-along song”; strong first single “Make You Better” that could endear them to a whole new audience; and arresting “12-17-12,” which Meloy wrote in response to the Newtown shootings as he embraces his own kin while he watches strangers mourn their own. It’s also where we get our album title, which really hits home once Meloy sings it. There are zero politics involved. It’s simply a human reaction to watching people grieve over senseless violence.
Decemberists fans will be pleased as long as they can handle that the band they built their lives around indeed had to change some. (Brian Krasman)