The Decemberists from Portland, Oregon return with their eighth album I’ll Be Your Girl, but how does it hold up when compared to their acclaimed earlier works? Read on to find out…
While Wikipedia lists The Decemberists as an ‘indie pop/baroque pop’ band, I’ve always found them a bit folk rocky with emphasis on the indie rock side. I’ll Be your Girl sees more modern pop sounds take a leading role, mainly through synths being higher up in the mix. On lead single “Severed” I felt this watered down their identity a bit, but the good news is that the album works with any new designs adding to the band’s character.
The band’s songs have always taken a storytelling approach, and their best songs have often had a darker edge (listen to “The Rake’s Song” from 2009’s The Hazards Of Love) and last year they released the magnificent ‘Ben Franklins Song’ as part of the Hamildrops mixtape project linked to the Broadway musical Hamilton. It was a magnificent snarly aggro pop gem, swear-y and angsty and an instant classic. This new album deals in part with the feelings of despair, depression and absurdity that many Americans felt in the aftermath of the US 2016 election result.
Leading off with second single “For Once In My Life”, a spacey strummed acoustic guitar leads to a fairly familiar sounding Decemberists song, albeit underpinned by fairly Brit sounding synths and with a slightly simpler lyric than many a song by the group. “Cutting Stone” lyrically is more traditional fare for the band, a fluid bass line underpinning a simple beat again punctuated by balanced synth melodies. “Severed” starts like an early OMD song and sounded quite alarming as the album’s first single. Here on the album, it compliments the mood of the record as an overall and whilst not falling into ‘classic’ status, it certainly makes more sense than it did as a standalone track. The synthy feel on the songs so far evokes for me a feel of latter-day Arcade Fire too.
“Starwatcher” is a military beat driven percussive monster with hints of Led Zep lyrically. “Tripping Along” is a lusty and romantic near-ballad, “Your Ghost” a stalkerish psych out that for some reason reminds me of Terry Hall’s post-Fun Boy Three group, The Colourfield. “Everything Is Awful” raises the band’s baroque pop flag, whilst “Suckers Prayer” is perhaps the most traditionally American rock the band have ever been, we’re almost treading in ‘The Band’ territory as the prayers refrain… ‘I want to love somebody, but I don’t know how / I want to throw my body in the river and drown’.
On first hearing “We All Die Young” I had to check that Suzi Quatro didn’t have a co-write credit as it’s almost a re-write of “Can The Can” or something, and it’s magnificent. The most pop moment here, a trashy glam stomp that’s pretty out of character but all the more memorable for it. “Rasulka, Rusalka/Wild Rushes” is a slow burner, gradually climbing to a climax tale of compulsion and longing whilst blind to the danger laying ahead. It’s two songs carefully melded into one and is a second album highlight in a row. Then the album closer and title track slopes in, like the opener the vocal over strummed guitar with some tweeness in its instrumental middle section.
Throughout the album, songwriter Colin Meloy’s voice entices and holds interest which is a constant through the Decemberists’ recorded catalogue. This might not be their best work, but it is a well balanced and consistent collection. If you miss classic REM or are searching for pop along the lines of the Divine Comedy and have not checked out the Decemberists before, then I heartily recommend that you give I’ll Be Your Girl a go. Why not come hear it on one of the fantastic hi-fi systems at your local Richer Sounds today?
Author: Ian, Romford store