If I had to pick a favourite Decemberists album, after much thought and rumination I would very likely choose “The Hazards Of Love”. It was the last of their albums available at the time that I got to hear. A chap walked into the shop and asked if I wanted a pile of CD’s that he had. I don’t usually buy CD’s but as he was offering them for nothing I couldn’t say no. This album was among them. Now, I’d read about it on various forums and such and the general consensus seemed to be that it was most fans least favourite record of theirs. It’s an opera you see which obviously involves a storyline and repeating themes and didn’t seem to be what most fans of the band wanted. So I gave it a spin and after just one run through I was convinced it was an absolute work of freakin’ genius ! I think I left that CD on repeat all day, soaking it up.
The story goes like this…while riding through the forest Margaret comes across an injured fawn. She stops to help it and it then turns into a young man, William. They “get it on” and sometime thereafter Margaret realises she is pregnant. She rushes to the forest where William receives the news and proclaims his love for her. We then are introduced to William’s disapproving Mother, the Forest Queen (end of Act 1).
William begs his mother to let him be with Margaret but the Queen accuses him of being ungrateful reminding him that she rescued him from the human world and made him immortal. Finally the Queen agrees to allow William one night as a mortal to be with Margaret but after that she will reclaim him forever (end of Act 2).
We now meet The Rake, a mon with no over the death of his young bride in childbirth and then murdering his children to free him from that burden. He kidnaps Margaret and the Queen invites him to violate Margaret and assists his escape from William by parting the waters of the river Annan. William follows but is unable to cross the river until he offers his life in exchange for safe passage. The Rake goads William and threatens Margaret but before he can do her any harm the ghosts of his murdered children appear to exact their revenge. William and Margaret are reunited and vow to remain together forever by drowning themselves (we’re here again) in the river while he is still mortal. As they sink into the river, William and Margaret proclaim their love for each other, singing that, in death, "These hazards of love, never more will trouble us” (The End !)
Phew…a bit heavy yeah…but all this is wrapped up in the most astonishing set of songs ranging from folk to country to rock and of course it gets Proggy in places. Themes repeat throughout introducing us to different characters (The Queens theme is almost Heavy Metal). The lyrics tell the story perfectly and new voices are introduced to the Decemberists mix to represent different characters (Becky Stark voices Margaret, Shara Worden sings The Forest Queen, Clara Ell, Joseph Ell and Natalie Briare are The Rake’s murdered children), it’s a bloody marvel I tells ya.
By the time you reach the final song, "The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned)”, you’ve been taken on a cinematic journey purely by listening to music, and oh that final song is so beautiful.
They’d toyed with this long, storytelling format with “The Tain” EP and “The Island…” from “Picaresque” but “The Hazards Of Love” is its full culmination. It is exactly 1 hour long. If you are going to dive in put aside an hour when you have to do nothing else, start it and don’t stop ’til the end, this should be a one hit deal. This may sound like sacrilege as the point of this exercise is to play though all my records but it’s honestly an album best listened to on CD or as a download/stream as then you don’t get any interruptions. Reaching the end of each side and having to turn it over breaks the flow of the storyline and it deserves to be heard uninterrupted.
I think I’ve played this album at least once a week (some days multiple times) since I first heard it 5 or 6 years ago. I’m listening to a live version of it as I am typing this (oh how I wish I’d got to see them play this live). I absolutely adore it and you really should give it a try.
The Hazards of Love 4 (The Drowned) - https://youtu.be/l-io-hWsAIA