Despite their dark subject material, they’ve never been a group to take themselves too seriously.
Label: Rough Trade Records
Released: 16th March 2018
If their last release ‘What a Beautiful World’ showcased their most accomplished songwriting, The Decemberists also found they were slipping into habits and getting too comfortable.
Enter ‘Severed’, the lead single from ‘I’ll Be Your Girl’. It’s a brooding track that prowls in on a throbbing bassline and is patrolled my menacing synths and venomous guitar lines, as Meloy plays the demagogue in a thinly-veiled barb at ‘45’: “I alone am the answer, I alone can make wrongs right.” Uprooting themselves from their usual studio in Portland, Oregon for their eighth full-length, The D’s are getting weird to keep themselves interested.
Opener ‘Once In My Life’ begins with a familiar acoustic strum, yielding to a circular chorus and bubbling keyboards. Meloy’s lyrical approach has rarely been so sparse, with scarcely a charabanc or palanquin in sight. These new songs instead find a riff, a beat or a lyric and work with it. It’s a far cry from the sprawling multi-part operas of earlier albums.
‘Your Ghost’ rides in on a galloping beat and where once brass might have erupted the band takes a detour to the disco, with groovy guitars and Abba-esque backing vocals. It isn’t all new ground though; the upbeat ‘Everything Is Awful’ is a classic Decemberists singalong, retrofitted with chunky guitars. They even throwback to 2006 with the sprawling multi-movement ‘Rusalka, Rusalka’, leaping from droning synths to plucked banjo to prog-rock riffage.
Describing the album as a ‘party at the end of the world’, Meloy and co. sound like they’re having a lot of fun, despite the lyrics being replete with doom and despair. Who else would feature a chorus of children yelling “We all die young!” before a haphazard saxophone solo?
Where earlier in their career sailors and fauns were the subject of all the misery, the band now easily drapes their own pessimism over the songs. (And who can blame them? There’s enough to be concerned about.) Despite their dark subject material, they’ve never been a group to take themselves too seriously, and never has Meloy’s tongue been jammed so firmly in cheek as on this collection of apocalyptic tunes. Yes, everything is awful, but heaven knows we could all do with seeing the funny side once in a while. Dillon Eastoe