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The Decemberists make rock opera cool with Hazards

Adam Spektor

Issue date: 3/20/09 Section: Focus
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Even at their most rockin', Colin Meloy's distinctive vocals make it clear that this is still a Decemberists record, and for fans of the band's earlier work, there is still much to be enjoyed here. "Isn't it a Lovely Night?" is a tender ballad, while the accordion-driven "Annan Water" recalls songs like "Shiny" and "The Youth and Beauty Brigade," which date back to the band's inception. The slow-burning "Hazards of Love IV (The Drowning)" closes the album on a reflective note.

One of the most positive aspects of The Hazards of Love (and one that otherwise could have led to disaster) is that the music is never subservient to the lyrics or the storyline. The story itself is thin; William, a shape-shifter, falls in love with a woman named Margaret, who gets pregnant and eventually gets captured by an evil forest Queen. It's all a bit silly, and like all rock operas, a bit bloated, but what is significant and gives the story a different dimension comes from the guest artists who play the various characters in the story. Lavender Diamond's Becky Stark and My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden, who play Margaret and the Queen respectively, not only sing their parts well, but they also come to embody the characters they portray. Robyn Hitchcock and My Morning Jacket's Jim James also provide backup vocals, although regrettably, they do not play any characters, and even a children's choir is brought in for "The Hazards of Love III (Revenge)."

The entire concept of a rock opera still seems absurd and hackneyed today, especially since the big expensive progressive and art rock of the 1970s is long gone and rock operas typically point to overreaches of ambition and pretension and therefore disaster. The Decemberists, however, have managed to create a record that, through artful repetition of great musical motifs and stellar performances on the part of every musician involved, stands as a true cohesive whole. Right from the opening "Prelude," which is no more than a slowly building Hammond organ solo, the album far more often recalls Thick as a Brick than it does Castaways and Cutouts. The Hazards of Love is one of those rare albums where this is a very good thing.
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In This Issue

News

  • Case Western students watch over El Salvador's presidential election
  • Have you heard about: Case Reserve Outing Club?
  • Print2Here printer replacements slowed by contract negotiations
  • Relay for Life not far off
  • Research at Case: Center on Urban Poverty and Social Change
  • Sudoku Answers
  • Tax day approaches: April 15
  • USG � BRIEF

Sports

  • Baseball: Late innings the decider in Kenyon doubleheader split
  • Hostoffer gets All-American
  • Softball: Wolz hits grand slam; Spartans sweep Kenyon
  • Tennis: Men win second straight
  • Track & Field: Jeroski and Breon impress in Atlanta
  • Women's Ultimate: Gobies win tournament, leap from No. 146 to No. 14

Fun Page

  • Crossword Answers
  • Jumble Answers
  • Sudoku Answers

Opinion

  • Editorial: Wall project valuable despite cost
  • Global environmental fund is inappropriate for economic climate
  • Students find motivation to serve in local, international efforts
  • Sudanese lives would be affected by military intervention

Focus

  • Bo Burnham brings hilariously offensive comedy to The Spot
  • Case students bring road trips to life with Autobahn
  • Film Society pulls in packed house despite complicated logistics
  • Spartans of Style: Examining the Europeans
  • Springfest brings more than just a big name band
  • The Secret Ingredient: Sweet and flaky coconut

Sex and Dating

  • The cheating chronicles

Spartan Spotlight

  • Adam Erickson

Worst Case Scenario

  • Inanity of the snooze button
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