The Decemberists – Her Majesty the Decemberists

The DecemberistsHer Majesty the Decemberists (Kill Rock Stars)

Colin Meloy, with his lovely languid voice, his daunting vocabulary and his baffling knowledge of 19th-century European history, accounts for a considerable amount of the Decemberists’ allure. The Portland ensemble’s new album Her Majesty the Decemberists, a fitting successor to 2002’s Castaways and Cutouts, is rife with the front man’s less-than-rock-and-roll pet themes of soldiers, sailors and downtrodden proles. Reappearing too, on tracks like “Shanty for the Arethusa” and “Chimbley Sweep” (respectively, the band’s second pirate- and chimney sweep-themed songs on record) is the jaunty cadence that made the best Castaways tracks so compelling.

On the songs that work best, the Decemberists bring all of their unusual instrumentation – Wurlitzers and vibraphones, pedal steels and glockenspiels – to bear, and craft vibrant melodies and sailing crescendos. Too often, however, the band seems to use Meloy’s always-excellent vocals as an excuse to avoid fleshing out the songs, leaving promising tunes such as “Los Angeles, I’m Yours” and “The Gymnast, High Above the Ground” feeling… lite. Her Majesty is a literate and engaging work, though not all of its elements carry Meloy’s inventiveness and tenacity.

MP3s of “Here I Dreamt I Was an Architect” and “The Soldiering Life” via

2 thoughts on “The Decemberists – Her Majesty the Decemberists”

  1. My comments are from only hearing this record 3 times; I intend to give it more time and expect the rough spots to smooth out.

    This record has some fine moments, but I find the icy hand of artifice in a lot of Meloy’s schtick. The anachronistic phrases (nobody, anywhere, ever says “it’s ever so…”) and juxtaposition of Dickensian/modernity, not to mention mannered vocals right now are bothering me. Can ye say “twee?”

    The worst part is that it really does remind me of a guy trying to “do” Jeff Magnum or Jeremy Enigk circa the latter’s “Return of the Frog Queen.”

    All that is neither here nor there considering when the music makes a wonderful noise. When it does, the vocal presence makes sense and Meloy is great and the lyrics are really cool. This is obviously a highly imaginative band and I prize that quality in anyone.

    This review points out the weak musical moments that leave Meloy’s affectations somewhat bare. But moments like the album’s opener are magical.

  2. Great review. Seriously, the progressions and harmonies make this album what it is–good.

    Not that the lyrics hurt. I love everything about “Los Angeles, I’m Yours”. Might be my favorite song of the year so far.

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