I wasn’t sure what to make of The King is Dead after the first play. I knew it was going to be very different to the previous album Hazards of Love, and how it is different. A collection of shortish three or four minutes songs, no great labyrinthine story pulling it into an extended concept album.
But equally the sound is stripped right back, all the instruments clear and spaced, space to breathe within the tracks. The sounds are deceptively simple, almost too simple but they reveal their pleasures and after a few plays there is a real joy in such an old fashioned stylee.
Much has already been made of the REM connotations, of course not least the Peter Buck contribution, and whilst there is of course an echo of REM for me the big change to previous collections is the reversion to being an American album and less an Anglophile one. Often the Decemberists reflect their love of English folk in their songs but in this set they are clearly back to their American roots, perhaps more of their Black Prairie alter ego wherein play three fifths of The Decemberists in their more straight ahead country persona.
Writing this I am simultaneously watching/listening the generous streaming from NPR of The Decemberists playing through this album live from the depths of OPB in their home town of Portland, apparently the first time they have played this set through in front of a live audience (full show now available at NPR). It sounds tremendous and whets the appetite for their European shows in March.
A fine, different (from the last that is) album from a fine band, going to become one for the end of year lists methinks
The Decemberists — Down By The Water