If you’re a Decemberists fan, you’ve probably sung along to the folk anthem “Down By The Water” on a Sunday drive. If you’re an avid fan, you became intimate with their chart-topping 2011 release The King is Dead and have been a regular listener ever since. And if you’re a hardcore, there-for-every-show-marry-me-Colin-Meloy fan, then there’s a chance you’ve heard of their 2009 album The Hazards of Love.
Driving back to Nashville from Lafayette, Indiana this weekend, I decided to revisit the Decemberists’ entire discography on the way down, to listen to each record and then to rank them in a hierarchy. The result was a list ordered as such:
- Picaresque (2005)
- Castaways and Cutouts (2002)
- The Hazards of Love (2009)
- The King is Dead (2011)
- The Crane Wife (2006)
- Her Majesty the Decemberists (2003)
- What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (2015)
You may notice that their most recent release, What a Terrible World, is at the bottom. What you can’t see is how strikingly large the gap between albums six and seven actually is. Make no mistake — WATW is still a decent album by any standard. But it does stand as the Decemberists’ biggest disappointment, especially given the bands remarkable consistency and excellence. I want to reexamine What a Terrible World a year after its release, unpack its problems, and see if they can be fixed.
Let it be known that when I last saw the Decemberists back in 2011, I successfully predicted that their first song would be “Apology Song” off their debut EP 5 Songs. Thus, when I predicted that they’d begin this show with the very appropriate “A Singer Addresses His Audience,” the Decemberists didn’t let me down and I am now two-for-two on my predictions. The Decemberists have never let me down: they’ve pumped out quality album after quality album, excellent live show after excellent live show. And Monday night, led by charismatic frontman Colin Meloy, was no different, even if Meloy and Co. had to struggle against an at times apathetic crowd at Ryman Auditorium.