Kill Rock Stars
Over the course of two albums and a handful of EP’s, the Decemberists have established themselves as the “intelligent” indie rock band. People often praise the band’s “literary” style of song with its poetic force and heartbreaking honesty. But what really makes Colin Meloy’s songwriting so effective is that he weaves an ironic humor into his melodramatic tales of sailors, prostitutes and the occasional spectral being.
With Picaresque, the band further examines its theatrical leanings with even more songs about seafarers (it can’t be healthy to be this obsessed with sailors, can it?) as well as other strange settings. The characters in many of these stories seem to exist out of time, obviously not in the present but not really anywhere in the past either, only perhaps in the creative mind of Meloy.
The artwork on the album mirrors the humor of Meloy’s writing with the band posing in ridiculous cheap theatrical set-ups. But don’t let that fool you, this is their most accomplished album to date; it has as much wittiness as it does beautiful songwriting. The album begins raucously with “The Infanta,” backed by a rumbling drum beat and strange howling noises the song bursts out of the gate with “Here she comes!” It’s followed by “We Both Go down Together”: combined this is the best one-two opening of any of the Decemberists albums so far. This song also features Petra Haden’s violin more prominently and is just one of the many subtle variations the band makes on their sound. “On the Bus Mall” features some of Meloy’s strongest songwriting ever and “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” is just a thrilling nearly nine-minute ride through the imagination of the Decemberists. It’s the biggest and boldest song yet from a band that excels in going over-the-top. Meloy has captured the lonely yet heroic dynamic of the open sea of yesteryear and spun it into a completely timeless world that has the ability to entertain and move us in a way few others can.
Somewhere on “The Engine Driver” Meloy sings, “I am a writer/ writer of fiction…” though this is only apt as a broad description of his writing, it is hard to classify him in any other way. He seems to have invented his own brand of witty prose, historical references and compelling storytelling, something we could call Meloy-drama. And as ridiculous and silly as that sounds; I think the Decemberists would be all for it.