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2023 Albums Thing 102 - The Decemberists “What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World”

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If you’ve listened to any of the videos attached to these scribblings about The Decemberists you will no doubt have realised that Colin Meloy has a very distinctive voice, it’s one you instantly recognise. So there I was one day wandering around Home Bargains in Telford when a song started playing on the in store PA system, nice guitar intro and as soon as the singer opened his mouth I knew it was Colin Meloy. I didn’t know the song so…does this mean they have a new album out ? And that is how I discovered that The Decemberists were about to release “What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World”…thanx Home Bargains !

On this, their 7th studio album, The Decemberists play a musical game very similar to “The King Is Dead”. The folk element is definitely American and Colin Meloy is hiding less and less behind palanquin’s, Trillium and Spartan Queen’s and showing more of himself. The albums title is lifted from the lyrics of the song “12/17/12”, that being the date of President Obama’s speech following the Sandy Hook school shooting three days earlier (my 50th birthday). The longer story songs are again not here but in places a sense of humour is on display.

That sense of humour is no more obvious than on opening song "The Singer Addresses His Audience”, a song addressed to some of their more enthusiastic fans who it seems were not so happy about the bands recent raised profile and subtle change in sound. The lyric “We're aware that you cut your hair, In the style that our drummer wore…In the video” explains a lot about the “Audience” in question.

Songs like “Cavalry Captain”, “Philomena” and “Better Not Wake The Baby” hark back to an earlier Decemberists while others including the utterly beautiful “Lake Song”, “Mistral” and “12/17/12” see Meloy telling us about his situation now and how he struggles with his personal happiness while out in the world bad things are happening. “WATW,WABW”’s highlight for me is undoubtedly that song I heard in Home Bargains, “Make You Better”. It’s one of those songs that from first hearing you know is going to be sticking with you for a long time , it’s fabulous musically, lyrically (“But we're not so starry-eyed anymore, Like the perfect paramour you were in your letters”) and the video is one of the funniest things I’d seen in a long time (make you butter FFS !). It’s inadvertently made me a better guitar player too. I figured out how to play a version of it but then forced myself to learn it as Colin Meloy plays it. It’s not just a great Decemberists song it’s a great, great song period.

As on “The King Is Dead” there is a shedding of some of the wordier elements of Colin Meloy’s songwriting. Where previously he’d have told us about “15 lithesome maidens” he’s now more likely to tell us about those girls over there. This doesn’t mean The Decemberists as an educational resource are gone, oh no, we still reached for the dictionary for sibylline (prophetic or mysterious), eidolon (a spirit-image of a living or dead person) and Vanagon (In the US the VW Transporter T3 was known as the Vanagon). But Colin Meloy is now a married man with children and doesn’t need the myths and the expansive language so much, he has things to say about his life.

The reason I like The Decemberists is because of Colin Meloy’s voice and way with words, the bands understated folky precision. Even though on this album some of the excesses of previous records are being pruned out the overall sound of The Decemberists is still very much here. And I like it…

Make You Better - https://youtu.be/Yb8oUbMrydk

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