The ‘new’ sound. The whimsical cover. The puerile title. Are The Decemberists having a mid-life crisis?
Musically, it would seem so. Colin Meloy and co are showing their age on their latest record I’ll Be Your Girl, and not in the way you might think. In adopting a more synth-driven approach, they lose the flavour of what made them forever interesting as a band, instead keen to show off their latest electronic trickery like a bunch of parents working out how to use an iPhone for the first time.
It’s not all bad, mind. Once In My Life perfectly blends The Decemberists’ yearning with a kaleidoscopic burst of cinematic synth, and it’s the sort of marriage that works wonders. Sucker’s Prayer works, but only because it sounds like it belongs to one of their older albums.
But then it all goes embarrassingly downhill. Cutting Stone, even with different production, struggles to anchor itself as a decent song, and it’s made worse by completely ill-fitting beats. Severed‘s wall of sound comes across like two discordant songs at work, while both Starwatcher and Tripping Along seem like a lot of shouting in the wind.
It’s only the 8-minute Rusalka, Rusalka / The Wild Rushes that really restores The Decemberists’ former glory. It’s a haunting epic, measured in its storytelling and layered with brilliant instrumentation; it’s everything The Decemberists should be. Instead we get songs like the painfully annoying Everything Is Awful; it seems like The Decemberists have taken that song’s worldview and applied it to their own sound because, on this record, pretty much everything truly is.