Album Review: The Decemberists, ‘What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World’
Few artists have as sly and sardonic a musical wit as the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy. That point is evidenced so clearly on ‘What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World’ in which Meloy delivers a simultaneous acknowledgment and confession in “The Singer Addresses His Audience”: “We know, we know, we belong to ya. We know you threw your arms around us in the hopes we wouldn’t change. But we had to change some, you know, to belong to you.”
And change they did. Some. Just enough, it would seem. That bit of change comes in the fact that, even though they continue to gather elements of folk, jazz, blues, and pop, the band, this time, wrapped everything up in concise little musical packages. Previously casual listeners taken back by the meandering baroque escapades may well become devoted fans, with this album. That’s how on point it is. In a roundabout, Decemberists kind of way.
Colin and company recorded ‘What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World’ over the course of 18 months starting with “Lake Song,” a schedule which could easily have made for a disjointed and disoriented record. But, even as the peppier numbers (“Calvary Captain,” “Philomena,” “Make You Better”) get sprinkled betwixt and between some lower-key moments (“12-17-12,” “Till the Water Is All Long Gone,” “Carolina Low”), the overall set feels perfectly cohesive and coherent. Wonderfully, shockingly so. It’s dynamic, but never jarring — a mark not everyone hits even with a more focused process.
Quite simply, no one sounds like the Decemberists… and it’s not just that Meloy has a thoroughly distinct voice, literally and figuratively. It’s that they have fun with their music, wandering to and fro across an incredibly wide artistic gap, while never forsaking the homeland that is good songs and interesting production.
‘What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World’ is out now on Capitol Records and available HERE.