Smarty-pants Colin Meloy has yet once again topped his prior output, this time bringing his Portland group Decemberists to bear on a 17-song concept album. People will no doubt label this a "rock opera," but Meloy is actually drawing more from the traditional folk world than anything. His words and music are constructed around the perpetually doomed "Margaret" and "William," central characters in a bazillion tales.
While the record is clearly meant to be heard as one long piece of music—and you'll have to pay close attention to really follow the narrative—Meloy and company excel in connecting the feelings in the words to the actual music. In doing so, they've actually managed to work in an ever-so-slightly harder rock edge. "The Rake's Song" sounds sufficiently evil, as any song about a rake should; "The Abduction of Margaret" creates the tension of a quick hostage situation, while "Hazards of Love 1" sets the stage with Meloy teasing his vocals and acoustic guitar, getting down with what actually are hazards of love (maidens, thistles, etc.).
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Musically, Hazards sounds contemporary (read: made within this century), yet the story has a very old-world feel. But somehow, Meloy has made it seem cool. Go figure.