It’s about the romance of a young girl and a shape-shifting woods-dweller, forced apart by the jealous Queen of the forest and her minion, a child-murdering rogue.
If you are familiar with The Decemberists, then that sentence will come as no surprise to you. If it does, you have some catching up do. The Hazards of Love is the band’s fifth full-length album and they have once again produced a work so unique, even long-time fans may be surprised.
The album is as much the telling of a folk tale as it is the performing of music. Both the lyrics and the music tell the story of Margaret and William. The lyrics separated from the music could themselves stand as a play.
Listeners can treat themselves to a favor by following along with the words in the booklet and jumping into this fantastical story. The album immerses the listener in its world, exactly as if it were a film or book.
The music always perfectly parallels with what is happening in the story. The lazy and dreamy tone of “Isn’t It A Lovely Night?” scores the budding romance in the forest. In the very next track, The Decemberists show their range and belt out “The Wanting Comes in Waves.” The lines of the angry and jealous queen of the forest are accompanied by a distinctive guitar riff and heavy drum, as she demands of William: “This is how I am repaid?”
The story moves forward through 17 tracks, including the fittingly creepy sound of “The Hazards of Love 3 (Revenge!)” wherein the rogue’s murdered children come back to haunt him. The album ends with the typically wistful and heart-breaking finale, “The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned).”
To speak of individual tracks, though, is misleading. Indeed, you would be hard-pressed to pick out where one song ends and another begins. After their commercially successful and universally well-liked The Crane Wife in 2006, The Decemberists could have went the safe route and followed its formula.
But they broke the mold once again and made an album that feels and sounds more like one, continuous hour-long epic. Like their 2004 EP, The Tain, this album is meant to be listened to as a whole, from start to finish.
There will be no hit singles, but those that put in the time to listen to the entirety of the album will no doubt be pleased. Once again, The Decemberists have taken their chances and succeeded. The album offers a unique experience to both long-time fans and first-time listeners.