THE DECEMBERISTS The King Is Dead (Capitol)

I am sorely tempted to declare The King Is Dead – Portland’s The Decemberists’ sixth album – as the album of 2011. After the steady move into progressive rock territory in the last two albums, critics have described The King Is Dead’s change in direction as “accessible”. Well, not unless it was released in the 80s, I daresay! Is an album that sees Colin Meloy and company basically go country on us a commercial commodity in 2011? In the age of auto-tuned prefabricated pop and groin-directed hip hop?

Lead single, Down By the Water, makes the band’s intentions clear with a harmonica intro, not to mention guest performances from Peter Buck (REM) and Gillian Welch. Commentators have already noticed the songs’s resemblance to REM’s The One I Love (especially the chord progression). Buck also plays on The Calamity Song and is immediately recognizable in the guitar appregios – the track sounds like an outtake of an 80s REM album but it’s a welcome relief to hear such classic songwriting in the new year!

This country-folk thread is carried through the entire album and although reviewers may harp on this so-called style shift, longtime fans will remember that tracks like Engine Driver and We Both Go Down Together (both from the magnificent Picaresque) were stridently seventies folkish and on the new album, the likes of the Paul Simon-channeling January Hymn and the gorgeously epic This Is Why We Fight would have fit in nicely on Picaresque.

Elsewhere, the authentic folk-blues approach of Rise to Me, All Arise and June Hymn, will bring to mind Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Gram Parsons – the usual suspects – and one can only admire how consistently the Decemberists have applied to its artistic vision, without a care about current trends and fashion. One can only hope that with The King Is Dead, the Decemberists kick down some doors and usher in a new wave of neo-country that will bring us back to the heady days of the 80s again! Well, after the post-punk revival, it’s about time!! An early contender for album of 2011, but you knew that!

Official Site

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