Album Review: The King Is Dead by The Decemberists


rsz 1decemberists cover art3 Album Review: The King Is Dead by The Decemberists

The King Is Dead, beard rock folksters,’ The Decemberists,’ newest record plays like a tribute to American and Irish classics like R.E.M., The Pogues, and Vic Chesnutt, too new to be vintage but seasoned enough to warrant a full length homage.  Assists from R.E.M. guitarist and the supernatural singer-songwriter Gillian Welch add a welcomed depth to the comparatively lighter version of The Decemberists’ oft lingering and dark-toned folk.  The über intelligent chatter behind the harp and the pedal steel put this band at the top of a short list of readers’ writers but, at times, the lyrical complexity feels weighty and dense.

While front man, Colin Meloy’s extensively articulated crooning is distinctly his own on this record, there are moments when we want him to ease up on the historical lore and usher in some fun.  Is that so wrong?

For all its grandiosity, The King Is Dead is a compact record, just over forty minutes in length.  Even still, it plays like an epic, like the countrified gospel of the Pacific Northwest, or like a soundtrack to a trilogy set somewhere damp on the emerald isle.  Gratuitous rhymes like “Once upon it The yellow bonnets Garland all the lawn” on “June Hymn” take away from The Decemberists’ otherwise seemingly genuine sentiments.  Writers like Josh Ritter and the greatest of greats, Townes Van Zandt, have no trouble with sweeping lyrics that tell tall tales without coming off too bookish.  At the lowest point, The King Is Dead is just too wordy and “Calamity Song” may be the biggest offender.  The lyric, “The Panamanian child stands at the Dowager Empress’ side and all that remains is the arms of the angels” goes beyond cerebral in this context.  To the track’s detriment, Meloy’s imagination runs wild and no one can stop it because no one knows where it’s going.

Despite a hearty dose of near operatic theatrics, The King Is Dead is a good listen if you don’t get bogged down in the hundred point words and clever tongue twisters.  This is a sweet and endearing home-towny record.  ”Rise To Me” and “All Arise,” the most country sounding cuts, are highlights.

The King is Dead is streaming in its entirety on until January 18, 2011.

Buy The King Is Dead on itunes and on for $9.99.  Teaming up with The Impossible Project and Autumn DeWilde, the sixth full-length record can be purchased as a special limited edition box set with original polaroids documenting the making of the album.

Watch the trailer for The King Is Dead.

Rating: 7/10


  1. Don’t Carry It All
  2. Calamity Song
  3. Rise To Me
  4. Rox In The Box
  5. January Hymn
  6. Down By The Water
  7. All Arise
  8. Sun Hymn
  9. This Is Why We Fight
  10. Dear Avery


  1. Posted by @cgtmouse

    Isn't asking the Decemberists to "usher in some fun" kind of like asking Cormac McCarthy to lighten-up a bit on the gnostic violence?

  2. Posted by Angel

    Good point. I only let that slide because of the C Mc reference. So thanks!