One of the best parts about The Decemberists is that much of their music references folklore, and their music gives you that vintage old storytelling type of feeling. Unfortunately that charm got lost somewhere in their seventh studio album, “What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World.”
To say that this album is not good at all, would be completely false. It is a very sharp shift in musical style and lyric writing. Like many things it is has both good and bad, and depending on the amount of love you might have for The Decemberists the good may outweigh the bad.
In 2005 the band signed with Capitol Records. A huge soul sucking label that many believed would just destroy the by the book definition “indie rock” that is The Decemberists. Thankfully they did not completely destroy them. Bands come out with albums that are incredible sometimes and other times don’t live up to what we had expected. It does not mean that the folks of The Decemberists are not incredible musicians. They are different people from when they had initially started out, and there music is going to grow as well.
The reason this album might not be getting as much praise as many others is that this album is much softer and more “radio friendly” than most of their other music. It’s folk music. The concept surrounding this album is not about any Japanese Folklore or a historical event. It reflects on our modern world, and the things that are “beautiful and terrible” about it. “12/17/12” reflects on President Obama’s speech that he gave after the Newton school shootings. Trying to understand a concept that many of us struggle with, which is why do such horrible things happen to people who do not deserve even the least bit of evil to come upon them.
“Cavalry Captain” took a very different approach from a “typical Decemberists” song. You can actually dance to it, unlike the standard that many of us have been holding their music up to. You have gentle and upbeat horns in the background that can make anyone smile. “Philomena” takes us back with some Doo-wops in the beginning. The song has a very innocent 1950’s feel to it. A time that is portrayed as being pretty much perfect. Courteous boys, beautiful girls, and most importantly the war being over.
“Lake Song” begins to ground us again and consumes us with a more melancholy feeling. “Say that you will, say you will or will you won’t. Or whatever you prevaricate, Your whole life, don’t you?” The lead singer Colin Meloy is reminiscing on a time that he may now be regretting. Where “Mistral” has a sad message being conveyed through a slightly country sound.
The Decemberists are growing as people and it would only make sense that their music will follow. It’s easy to blow off an album because it does not live up to the sound that you like. At the end of the day, this is still a piece of art, and the artist put much time and effort into it. There is something they are trying to tell us by changing their style. Maybe they want us to blossom along with them and keep up on this journey of singing songs that question what in the actual hell is going on with our world.