The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love

Capitol
Music •••• Sound ••••
It's no surprise that, after going semi-conceptual for The Crane Wife in 2006, the Decemberists have now gone all the way: The Hazards of Love is indeed a full-fledged concept album (don't even think of playing it on shuffle), and a brilliant one at that.

The concept? Beats me, since Margaret's adventures here are about as linear as Gerald Bostock's were on Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick, if clearly sexier. But Colin Meloy's melodies are exquisite from start to finish, and the Decemberists have gone way beyond their earlier pastiches of Fairport Convention and Horslips to craft a more inventive (and at times surprisingly raucous) blend of prog and pop.

You get the old thrill of discovery as tunes reappear in different guises and the band transforms from minstrels in the gallery to rockers in the bar. And while Meloy's cleverness has been a mixed blessing in the past, it scores here - especially when he introduces Becky Stark's achingly lovely vocal on "Won't Want for Love" with, ahem, "our heroine withdraws."

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