Though The Decemberists released a few albums before Picaresque, that was the one that put them on the map.
Strange and wonderful, the album began with whale songs and each track came up with new and weird sounds to throw at listeners without alienating them. Unfortunately, nothing The Decemberists have released before or since has matched the level of bizarre musical genius.
Earlier this year, they released the 10-song LP The King is Dead, which, while not revolutionary, was still a solid release from the band. If it lacked Picaresque’s inventiveness, at least it avoided the over-the-top and pretentious experimentalism they used on The Hazards of Love. Long Live the King, released today, is a six-song collection of B-sides from The King is Dead, consisting of standard pop songs made a bit more interesting by lead singer Colin Meloy’s distinct, nasally voice that sounds as though he swallowed a small kazoo.
The first track, “E. Watson” exemplifies this. What could have been a dull guitar/vocal piece is made more interesting just because Meloy sings it. There isn’t really anybody else with a voice like his, which gives every song he sings a feeling of coming from a charming, non-specific, older era.
Most of the rest of the tracks are more upbeat than the starter track, featuring more instrumentation than just a man and a guitar. Any of these could have fit right in on The King is Dead, with the exception of “Row Jimmy,” which is a cover of a Grateful Dead song and the weakest link on this release. Performed about a half beat too slow, it also manages to sound too busy, with guitar and piano parts that don’t belong in the same song. Meloy can certainly breathe new life into older songs, but this cover just drags.
Fortunately, the rest of the tracks will keep fans of the band satisfied. Long Live the King is a B-side EP and it doesn’t transcend that fact, but most of the songs are still quite good and should appeal to those who enjoyed The King is Dead. Unlike Picaresque, however, this is not the kind of fresh release that’s going to attract many new fans.
Printed on Tuesday, November 1, 2011 as: Long live the Decemberists' album