Something In Between
The world of The Decemberists’ most recent album, What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World, is neither terrible nor beautiful. Really, it’s just alright. It has all of the country-pop niceness of The Avett Brothers without any of the grit that keeps their sound from becoming saccharine (although it can veer into that territory). It has all of the autumnal wistfulness of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon but without the breathy vocals or impeccable orchestration. It’s a fine exercise in country-rock pop, with catchy songs and consistently witty, and even funny lyrics, but it lacks any exceptional element and thus, it remains simply alright.
Some tracks, however, do have that special something that elevates them above the rest. In the opening track, “The Singer Addresses His Audience” self referential lyrics (“We know you threw your arms around us in the hopes we wouldn’t change but we had to change”) are sung above a strummed acoustic guitar playing chord changes that subvert expectations in just the right way. The song eventually explodes into a raucous jam, with – what is probably the highlight of the whole album – a distorted, dissonant guitar solo layered over top. “Better Not Wake The Baby” brings old folk music to mind – maybe even a pirate song. It’s also the one song on the album that features only lead singer Colin Meloy’s vocals and a guitar – a stripped down format that should have been utilized more often. “Easy Come Easy Go” exhibits an odd touch of surf-rock influence in the guitar sound and an interesting – if not a bit off-putting – background choir that has been morphed by electronics. It’s certainly the most unique track on the album and acts as a nice change of pace on what is otherwise a stagnant and overlong record.
But most songs are of the “Mistral” or “Make You Better” type – nice, catchy, but ultimately a bit vapid. Each track is well crafted, with a nice mix of textures and clever lyrics, but there’s no revelations here. The music never lives up to the forced profundity of the album’s title. It’s a fine world, but only that – fine.