They keep the goodness coming
Returning with their first full-length album since early 2015, The Decemberists boast a dynamic eleven-track effort, I’ll Be Your Girl, led still by the unchanging emotional voice of Colin Meloy. Hearing just a snippet of any of these new selections brings to mind the same foggy days and relaxing drives as the earliest works by the band.
This is a great album — the only obvious flaw being the song order. “Once in My Life,” the opener, is a very satisfying tune, fit for a down-on-his-luck protagonist who finally gets what he wants. The key word is finally; this is an album ender — a reflective sigh or a silent smile — not the start of an adventure. Ending with the title track is an oft-employed tactic that usually serves as a nice wrap-up or reminder, but “I’ll Be Your Girl” is not one of the stronger tracks and doesn’t tie the bow on the album as well as “Once in My Life” could. Frankly, the title track and the opener could switch and both do well in their new respective places, but then the curveball that is “Rusalka, Rusalka – The Wild Rushes,” a powerful eight-minute endeavor, comes in second to last on the track list, despite being a perfect album closer as well. So perhaps the ideal, updated track list would have “I’ll Be Your Girl” first, “Once in My Life” penultimate and “Rusalka, Rusalka – The Wild Rushes” closing.
Ordering qualms aside, this is a great album. The recording brings out the meat of the snare drum, each fingerprint with the guitar strumming, and gives every track its own uniqueness, even if in small doses. “Cutting Stone” is an excellent walking tune, offering a touch of the ’80s with the dancing synth that makes a few appearances. It starts right away with Meloy’s vocals and his delicate guitar playing. Headphones are required for “Severed” — the bass skulks in the shadows and raises the spine in keen interest. One of a few excellent changes of pace from the previous track.
“Starwatcher” is probably the most appropriately-titled song here. While the entrance of the drums sets the listener on some rural roads, the song’s opening is a lonely summer night on a back porch looking up the stars while the fire calmly flickers. The slow, soothing strums of “Tripping Along” benefit from the time taken with each chord. They don’t rush to mix up the chord progression, even in the chorus, and the result is a relaxing nap in the sun with great guitar sound throughout. The most animated number is “Your Ghost,” which could easily have its own movie scene dedicated to it. It gallops from start to finish and is aided by a simple, effective chord progression.
“Everything is Awful” is a terrific example of a lyrically simple hook that works in favor of creating a good melody and in favor of perpetuating the “happy song with a sad message” feeling throughout. “Sucker’s Prayer” has got to be a favorite. Clearly, the band was feeling inspired by The Beatles, and they show their appreciation in their own way — no licks or riffs taken. Its blatant chorus might not pass the “show, don’t tell” test but it does exactly what it needs to, and the message is reluctantly relatable. Production serves as the strongest point of the next song, “We All Die Young,” whose chorus (also the title) is not quite on par with its predecessor. And, as mentioned earlier, “Rusalka, Rusalka – The Wild Rushes” is a beautiful composition. Never have Meloy’s words caused so many carefully placed goosebumps and satisfied closed eyes.
Like many works, this one gets better after the first listen, yet unlike others, it successfully combines several dynamic tracks that offer some new sounds while keeping that somber The Decemberists sound present. Give this one a spin before the weather starts getting nice again.