The Decemberists’ 2009 record, ‘The Hazards of Love’, represented a bit of a departure from much of their earlier material. Rising through the ranks over the years as, essentially, a folk group, this record represents a much darker and more menacing shift in the band’s dynamic. A decidedly grand, albeit slightly off balance example of the rock opera, the band, who have channeled their inner Jethro Tull throughout their past discography, channels, at times, the heavily blues-influenced quasi-metal of many early-’70s bands (Led Zeppelin, anyone?). Even with that said, this is a highly diverse record that is often difficult to pin down to a specific overall style.
The opening instrumental piece on the record, “Prelude”, starts this rock opera off on a rather menacing, spine-tingling note. This track had not been all too representative of this band’s output up to this point in time. Bringing together the spaciness of a Pink Floyd or a Hawkwind with the icy keyboards of Kraftwerk, the spirit of this record coming out of the gate isn’t one of a non-confrontational nature. In fact, this probably goes without contest as the most visceral this band has ever been willing to present themselves. Then, rather promptly, the Led Zeppelin influence shines through on the following track, “The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won’t Wrestle the Thistles Undone)”, which is also the track where some of the details of this record’s central concept come to the forefront to reveal themselves. This is, for sure, well-spun material, but it is necessary to note that some of how this record chooses to fit itself together is of a bizarre, oddball nature that doesn’t always sound organic. The best track on this record, without a doubt, is “The Rake’s Song”, which appears further on down the record. This track best represents everything that this record does right, when it does them right; the distorted riffing, the folk-driven melody lines, and the adventurous spirit that encapsulate the very innate idea of rock n’ roll music are all present. With that said, too large of a portion of the tracks on this record feel rather disjointed, even when the best of the material shines as bright as possible.
This rock opera leaves you with a difficult task of coming up with a steady verdict. As mentioned already, there are some great tracks on this record. Unfortunately, the record’s material doesn’t always fit together effortlessly. Perhaps the intentions don’t match? Is it impossible for this kind of grandiosity to exist within a context of surrounding irony? Well, the answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’. To a certain degree, this sort of clash of irony with the grandiose is one of the undeniable strengths of the record. On the other hand, it also serves as one of the record’s faults. The main fault of the record, however, remains its inability to flow with the smoothness of the greatest of rock operas. Although, let’s be clear, the fact that a band like the Decemberists were able to have the guts and the courage to come out and create a record like this, to a certain degree, is worthy of praise. Colin Meloy, the band’s leader, is more than capable of injecting the amount of character and backbone necessary to keep a project like this afloat, as he proves well enough, albeit inconsistently, on this particular record.