It's been a while since I paid much attention to The Decemberists. The Crane Wife was an excellent album but that was nearly ten years ago now and they'd slipped of my radar a little since then. I'm not even sure why I bought What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World... I quite liked Make You Better when I heard it on 6Music, but I think it's probably the name of the record itself which tipped me over the edge and got me to give it a shot. Rarely has an oxymoron been so true.
The record opens with a sly wink to the band's devoted fanbase, particularly anyone who thinks about criticising their new stuff as "not as good as the old stuff".
We know, we know we belong to ya.In its own way, it's as sarky as the Manics singing 'You Love Us', but this is a much older (and wiser?) band, with very little of the piss and vinegar Nicky, Ritchie and James Dean had on their debut. Then comes the second single, 'Cavalry Captain', the closest thing to The Crane Wife here: it's folk with a capital F, but still poppy as hell. Things really start to get interesting with 'Philomena' though, probably the muckiest song I've heard all year, it's a Shakespearian ode to cunnilingus. Fantastic.
We know you built your lives around us.
But we had to change some...
You know, to belong to you.
Elsewhere, songwriter Colin Meloy is still in thrall to Morrissey on 'Lake Song'...
And I, seventeen and terminally fey'Reel Around The Fountain', anyone?
I wrote it down and threw it all away
And never gave a thought to what I'd paid.
And you, all sibylline, reclining in your pew
You tattered me and tethered me to you
The things you would and the things you wouldn't do...
To tell the truth, I never had a clue.
Then there's 'Better Not Wake The Baby', no doubt inspired by the early months of his second child, Milo Cannonball Meloy (kudos), addressing an issue you don't often hear rock star dads singing about: the difficulty of practising your vocation in a house with a young child...
How long will this go on?The album's title comes from the penultimate track, 12/17/12. Written in reaction to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, it finds Meloy holding on tighter to his own son to shield him from the horrors of the world... without depriving him of its beauty. Maybe that's why I liked this record so much: it's not an album for teenagers, it's an album for parents. Embrace middle age!
How long indeed?
Bang your drums till the money's all gone
But it better not wake the baby!
(Plus they got Ron Swanson to star in their video.)
Next, the Top 3 kicks off with a pair of yobboes who left me feeling very satisfied.