The Decemberists – Her Majesty, the Decemberists
Kill Rock Stars, 2003
Acquired: Love Garden, Used, 2007
This might be the Decemberists’ masterpiece. Actually, no, it is. And in that last post when I said “Grace Cathedral Hill” was Meloy’s masterpiece, it’s not. It’s “Red Right Ankle.” It’s just so simple, it’s Meloy casting off all of the fancy and weird instruments that the Decemberists have built their reputation on and just singing something simple and straight. Of course it’s not simple, his words wind around that beautiful acoustic guitar and it’s like he’s speaking directly to you (or your girlfriend, when you put it on a mix CD for her or make her listen to it with you late at night when you are trying to tell her how much you love her). That said, the rest of the album is great. It’s like Castaways and Cutouts on steadier footing. It’s more refined and self-sure. They’ve figured out where they’re going. The sequencing though, that’s a masterpiece in itself. Opening with the bizarrely wonderful “Shanty for the Arethusa” and then busting out the pop jam “Billy Liar” which is like a more restrained version of “July, July!” (for better or worse). It’s more somber but the pop songs are poppier. “Song for Myla Goldberg,” “The Soldiering Life,” and “The Chimbley Sweep” (the song that got me into them in the first place) bring down the house in their own way, but “Red Right Ankle” is right there in the middle. Oof. My only complaint is that I wish it ended with “Of Angels and Angles,” the last track from Picaresque (an excellent album in its own right) because I always thought this album ended with that song, as the songs on Picaresque were much more standalone and I forgot that it ended with one of Meloy’s finest bits of tenderness. I wish I owned that album, because I always forget that it’s really fantastic. It’s them taking it to the absolute max before the wheels fell off on The Crane Wife (though I should note that “The Crane Wife Pts. 1 & 2,” “The Crane Wife Pt 3,” “Summersong” and “Sons and Daughters” were all super solid if not fantastic jams). Anyway, maybe I can’t really call any of their albums a masterpiece. I know it’s one of the first three because (goddamn) Hazards of Love sucks pretty hard (sorry dudes, you’re just over thinking it!). REGARDLESS, listening to this record makes me realize that the Decemberists aren’t a gimmick, or weren’t a gimmick (though they might be now). Sigh, I long for simpler times.